One of the miracles of digital technology is that devices can help compensate for many physical impairments. These can restore an individual’s independence and confidence to perform daily activities without assistance. I remember working with visually-impaired people back in the early days of personal computers; machine systems that could transform text on paper into spoken words approached being magical.

Soon, users will enjoy those benefits and much more thanks to the integration of the Envision smartphone app and Google Glass smart eyewear. Artificial intelligence (AI) transforms the glasses into a window onto the visual world for the blind and visually-impaired. The Google Glass is a self-contained Android computer in a lightweight, hands-free device. It has a microphone array, camera, and speaker, in addition to a display that is superfluous in this particular application. It also can communicate using Bluetooth and WiFi connections.

With the integrated Envision software, users can get unobtrusive access to their surroundings. The system can scan text on any surface from signs to food packaging, and discretely read it aloud for the wearer. It can also recognize bar codes and look up the relevant information. It can recognize familiar individual’s faces and identify them. It can describe scenes and find objects in the wearer’s field of view. As a result, individuals are able to navigate through their daily lives with a much higher level of independence, including using public transportation or shopping at retail stores.

The system is set to ship in August 2020 for $2,099 (with discounts available for pre-orders). While this may seem expensive, consider that corrective eyeglasses can often cost $500 to $1,000 depending on the prescription and frames. A better comparison might be hearing aids, as these devices can compensate for significant impairments. A good set of digital hearing aids can cost two or three times as much as the Envision Google Glass system. As a result, this could be a reasonable investment to restore self-sufficiency for a person with impaired vision.