What's the Future of Vision Related Assistive Technology?

Posted by Luke Scriven on 4/22/2019
The world of assistive technology is consistently interesting because it is consistently changing. Just a few years ago, handheld and desktop electronic magnifiers reigned supreme, with the main differences being between the size of a screen, resolution of a camera, or inclusion of OCR/TTS. Since then there has been an explosion in wearable devices which was kicked off by eSight, and has recently seen the introduction of the NuEyes e2 and Zoomax's Acesight. Along with this, every year sees more and more people getting on board with the use of smartphones, which have apps often for free that can turn your device into a veritable Swiss army knife of low vision and blindness tools. 

We expect these trends to continue into the future. The uptake of smartphones with seniors has been slower than with other populations, but seems to be gathering steam now, with the majority of seniors that we see now having a smartphone. Just because you have a smartphone however doesn't mean you know how to use it! This is the main barrier for people that we currently see, however it is expected that as time goes on seniors will be more comfortable with technology, especially as the baby boomers get older, and may rely on their smartphone more than traditional assistive technology devices. 

We expect the trend toward wearable vision aids to also continue into the future, with more and more competing devices being released and prices being pushed down as a result. Although some of the current wearable vision aids work well, none of the devices which are currently available could be labeled as particularly discrete, making them a potential cause of social stigma if worn in public. As such, there is plenty of room for improvement toward making a wearable device which looks like a regular pair of glasses, but has the functionality of a wearable vision aid (magnification, contrast enhancement etc.) In fact, Samsung have been looking to develop exactly such an aid with Relumino, currently an app but hopefully in the future a pair of glasses which look like regular sunglasses. 

So does this mean that traditional desktop and handheld CCTVs have had it? We think not. One movement in the regular television market has been the move to 4K televisions, that is televisions which have four times the number of pixels than traditional HD (1080p) TVs. There is some debate about whether 4K is worthwhile for televisions, as with the distance that people sit from the television (generally around 8 feet) you can't tell the difference between a 1080p image and a 4K image. However, that isn't the case when you sit within 2 feet of the screen - the closer you sit, the more difference 4K makes to the image quality. 

So what does this mean for CCTVs? Well, one of the defining features of a CCTV is that users sit close to the screen - often having their faces within a few inches of it! This provides the benefit of relative distance magnification, i.e. the closer your eyes are to the screen, the relatively larger the thing you're trying to read on the screen. This close distance also means that people with low vision are the IDEAL CANDIDATES for 4K screens on their CCTVs, and could benefit from the technology perhaps more than regular TV viewers. Incidentally, people who are visually impaired might also be used to sitting much closer to their televisions, and so might again benefit from having a 4K television for regular TV watching. 

The vision related asistive technology market is always slow to take up new display technologies, with the switch to HD for example coming years after it was introduced in the consumer television market. However, at some point assistive technology companies will start to make desktop CCTVs with 4K cameras and 4K screens, and then inevitably handhelds will follow. So don't count out regular CCTVs yet, we predict they've still got some life in them. 

In conclusion, while no-one can predict the future with 100% accuracy, this seems the logical direction for the assistive technology market to progress in. Of course, there's always room for some technology to arrive from nowhere and take the field by storm, and who knows what medical advances may arrive in the next 10 years? Whatever happens, we can always trust that things will never remain the same, and that's what keeps technology interesting - you never know what's around the corner. 

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