RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Augmented reality is about to merge with the real world — to help those with hearing impairments follow conversations without lipreading or hearing aids.
We’re all familiar with closed captioning on our TVs, but if you’re hearing impaired you can’t get that closed captioning in real life — until now.
There’s now a device that will put the words of conversations in front of your eyes no matter where you go or what you are doing.
Keenan Tully from Mooresville near Charlotte is a hearing-impaired NASCAR Trainee Driver and he took the device known as XRAI glasses for what amounted to a visual test drive.
After inventor Dan Scarfe gave Tully a pair of the glasses to wear he told him, “In a second everything I say to you will appear in real-time in front of your eyes.”
“Yep, I see everything you’re saying and everything I’m saying,” said Tully. “That’s crazy.”
The system uses off-the-shelf augmented reality glasses which are about $379 as well as readily available translation software that’s loaded into an Android phone to be run by a specialized proprietary app that does all the work to create the conversation captions.
“We’re actually recommending people not use their main phone for the glasses because they consume quite a bit of battery,” said Scarfe. “Instead, invest in a cheap Android phone and use it to run the glasses.”
Scarfe’s 97-year-old grandfather’s hearing loss gave him the idea for the glasses.
“He watches subtitles on TV and we have augmented reality glasses, along with real-time captioning — so why can’t we put them all together?” he said.
It took several years to figure out how to make it all work, but for users, it’s a game changer.
“When you have a hearing loss your brain is working twice as hard to fill in certain gaps — words and letters,” said Tully. “To be able to see what’s being said is incredible.”
The XRAI app has several versions, including one that offers a personal assistant much like Siri or Alexa.
“We’re committed there will always be a free version of the app with subtitles as well as a premier and Ultra version with cloud storage transcriptions and so forth,” said Scarfe.
The glasses may have broader appeal.
Research shows 47 percent of Generation Z are comfortable watching content with subtitles and rely on technology like digital personal assistants.
“It was very much focused on the deaf, but now we have translation and we’ve got a personal assistant so anyone in the entire world might want to use this application right now,” said Scarfe.
Currently, the app only runs on Android phones and is available now on the Google play store world-wide.
Scarfe told CBS 17, they’ve also written a version of the app to run on the iOS operating system, but they are waiting for Apple to introduce its own version of augmented reality glasses.
That may come within a year.