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Close-up of a woman's ear and hand through a torn hole in the paper. Yellow background, copy space. The concept of eavesdropping, espionage, gossip and tabloids.
Close-up of a woman's ear and hand through a torn hole in the paper. Yellow background, copy space. The concept of eavesdropping, espionage, gossip and tabloids.

Now the Deaf Can See the Words They Can’t Hear

Speech-to-text technology via cell phone networks and special glasses allow people with hearing loss to see conversations they cannot hear — displayed as subtitles

Dan Scarfe says he first got the idea for eyeglasses that display subtitles (XRAI Glasses) when he watched his 97-year-old grandfather struggle to understand conversations at Christmas last year. For TV, Grandpa had subtitles. The Toronto-based tech entrepreneur realized that speech-to-text and cell phone technology would let him to subtitle everyday conversations and display them on glasses.

Here’s how it works:

The deaf woman wearing the glasses is reading the subtitles:

The AR glasses are connected to a mobile phone which handles the processing and graphics generation.

“What our software effectively does is it takes an audio feed from the microphone on these glasses [and] sends it down to the phone,” said Scarfe.

“On the phone we are effectively turning that audio into closed captions and then, using that Nreal software, we can project those subtitles into the real world”.

Aisling Ní Chúláin & AP, “New AR glasses allow deaf people to ‘see’ conversations by turning audio into subtitles” at EuroNews (July 29, 2022)

A major hearing loss advocacy group, Royal National Institute for Deaf People, is among those backing it:

Mark Atkinson, CEO, RNID, said: “This is a great example of the positive difference innovative technology can make for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. At RNID we are excited about the potential for technology to transform the lives of our communities.

“XRAI glass is intuitive and simple to use and could be a powerful tool in ensuring people with hearing loss don’t feel excluded in social settings. We support and applaud this endeavour and are keen to play our part in connecting innovators with our diverse communities.” ,

XRAI Glass: Revolutionary New Glasses Allow Deaf People and People Who Have Hearing Loss to ‘See’ Conversations” at BusinessWire (July 28, 2022)

The projected next steps for the glasses are translating “languages, voice tones, accents and pitch, according to XRai:

Josh Feldman, 23, was born with profound hearing loss and has had hearing aids in both ears since he was 18 months old.

He tested the glasses without having any idea what they were about to do, and described them as ‘quite extraordinary.’

Shivali Best, “The smart glasses that let deaf people ‘SEE’ conversations” at Daily Mail (July 29, 2022)

That said, in the beta test with 100 users, the transcription was not good in a noisy environment or when speakers were overtalking each other. Scarfe hopes to address that issue further on.

A public preview is now available free. Suggested costs are “The XRAI Glass glasses will be available to purchase in the UK via EE for £399.99 (US$489.61) or £10 (~US$12) then £35 (~US$43) per month for 11 months.” (NotebookCheck)

Scarfe told EuroNews that the user owns the stored data.


Other recent advances in disability aids:

The Bionic Man was science fiction; the bionic hand is not. A recent internet-savvy bionic hand, developed by an American neuroscientist and computer engineer, is the most flexible yet, with sensory feedback. The trouble is, if the new bionic hands are going to help most of the world’s amputees , they can’t cost six million dollars, as in the old TV show. (2021)

Prosthetic hand controlled by thoughts alone? It’s here. Decades ago, no one could control a prosthesis only by thought. There is lots of room for the field to grow still. (2020)

New mind-controlled robot arm needs no brain implant. The thought-controlled device could help people with movement disorders control devices without the costs and risks of surgery. (2019)

High tech can help the blind see and amputees feel. It’s not a miracle; the human nervous system can work with electronic information. (2019)


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Now the Deaf Can See the Words They Can’t Hear