Speech-to-text apps are useful, but they’re not conducive to conversation. Having to look up and down or back and forth at the app and the speaker can be physically exhausting. What if real time captions could be displayed in the same line of sight?
This is the concept behind two smart glasses currently in development. TranscribeGlass and Pinna AR Smart Glasses are hoping to attract the deaf and hard of hearing market.
Madhav Lavakare — who is only 19 years old — founded TranscribeGlass. The New Delhi, India resident been working on the concept for over three years. When a deaf friend dropped out of school because he couldn’t afford accessibility solutions, Lavakare decided to figure out a solution.
Lavakare has assembled a good team. He has partnered with Kyle Keane, a lecturer at MIT who teaches Principles and Practices of Assistive Technology. Keane is also an AI Research Scientist at MIT’s Quest for Intelligence with extensive expertise in digital and physical accessibility. Project manager Matthew Johnston is a trustee of Stagetext, a UK charity that provides captioning and live subtitling services for cultural events, and a trustee of Scope, a disability equality charity in the UK that collaborates with tech companies. Johnston is also deaf. Three advisors with relevant experience are involved as well.
What makes TranscribeGlass stand out is its focus on low-cost and comfort. “It’s a very affordable stripped down device,” Lavakare says. “It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles.”
“It’s a very affordable stripped down device.”
TranscribeGlass isn’t actually a pair of glasses, but rather a heads-up display that clips onto glass frames. A companion mobile app allows you to view the transcript history and control other settings. The glasses’ selling points include:
Light and comfortable, with a target weight of under .06 pounds
Ability to choose captioning source
Target price of $55
Control over caption placement, size, font, and language
Full day of battery life
Since its inception, TranscribeGlass has undergone several iterations as the design continues to be refined and improved. Over 100 people have signed up to test the Beta version. Their feedback will be integral in finding bugs and improving the design. At this point, it’s only available to test on Android but they plan to have a beta iOS version as well. Regardless, the final version will support both Android and iOS. An early launch is planned for Fall 2021.
Gavin McNally, founder and CEO of Pinna.io first came up with the idea of live caption glasses 20 years ago. When a deaf friend complained about cinemas not always providing subtitles for the films he wanted to see, McNally was inspired to provide better access.
“I believe the key technology was augmented reality,” the Glasgow, Scotland resident says on his website.
“I believe the key technology was augmented reality.”
Like TranscribeGlass, Pinna’s glasses have a mobile app. These glasses feature:
A voice-activated AI assistant called ARGO that combines speech-to-text technology with conversational AI
Separates and identifies speakers by name (other speakers have to first say “Hey Argo” or “Argo,” and their name)
Audio clues like a car horn
Alerts when someone addresses you
The prototype will be arriving from the manufacturer soon, and then used to pitch investors for the money needed to launch. McNally is hoping early access will be within the next six months. A large user base is needed to test the app on an ongoing basis. The full release will be within 12 months, but is dependent on investors. Pinno just signed a deal with a Scottish university that will co-develop some of the software, so time frames could change. iOS will be released first, followed by Android a few months later.
As for the price point, McNally says the app will be free under the basic plan. Paid upgrade options will be available for commercial use. He estimates the glasses will sell under 400 Euros (roughly $570 U.S.), but “nothing is finalized yet.”
Lisa A. Goldstein has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley, a digital hearing aid, a cochlear implant, and plenty of deaf-friendly communication equipment. She spends her days juggling life as a freelance journalist, wife, and mother of two in Pittsburgh, PA.
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