January 12, 2024
While entertainment and telepresence are considered the most clear uses for virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR), several developers at CES 2024 demonstrated why in the short term, it may be that counterintuitive uses of extended reality (XR) as assistive technologies for visually impaired people provide the best case for its existence. The show demonstrated impressive ways to address macular degeneration, to assist in outdoor activities and to “read the room.” Two particular companies — Ocutrx and Lumen — showcased interesting headsets that may also point to a variety of entertainment, military, medical and enterprise applications.
Ocutrx Technologies, of Colorado and California, demonstrated its OcuLenz (below), an undeniably impressive AR headset that, while seeking a solution for people with advanced macular degeneration (AMD), ended up creating an AR device with an industry-leading field of view and resolution.
A quick set-up senses where a user’s blind spots are, and cleverly pushes the image outside of those areas. Given how our brains learn to ignore blind spots (and every eye has them), the rave testimonials Ocutrx claim don’t seem far-fetched. The 5K-per-eye hardware and wide FoV are similarly impressive even for those who do not AMD compensation.
Lumen, a Romanian company, presented an equally impressive solution for people with severe visual impairment, and who may rely on guide dogs to maximize their independence outdoors. Where a guide dog pulls the hand, the Lumen headset (below) steers the user with haptic feedback from the headset.
Various sensors in the headset (the maker claims similar abilities to current advanced driver assistance hardware), and proprietary environmental models enable the headset to perform real-time semantic analysis of terrain and lead the wearer away from environmental risks.
Lumen claims the device does more than help its wearer avoid lampposts, but also helps them cross the road in the right place and to avoid them stepping in water, no matter how invitingly flat and obstacle-free it seems.