Wearable Future for Accessibility

This presentation was created for the CSUN 2016 Conference by Ted Drake, Intuit Accessibility.


Lets look back in history and trace the development of eye-based wearables to understand the potential innovations in the near future.

1700’s “Martin’s Margins”

Martin’s Margins Spectacles have gold plated frames with circular horn inserts around lenses. These early glasses were stylish and provided a significant improvement, but there was plenty of room for improvement.

University of Michigan: NavBelt (1989)

This project aims at the further development of a sophisticated computerized Electronic Travel Aid (ETA) for blind and visually impaired individuals. In its final prototype version, the device will consist of a belt with a small computer, ultrasonic and other sensors, and support electronics.

MIT Media Lab

  • MIT’s Media Lab has been innovating the vision-based computers for many years.
  • Eye-based wearables follow the head and the user’s point of interest.
  • Eye tracking allows hands free. Sensors are at head level instead of floor level (cane)

SnowWorld – University of Washington(1996)

In 1996, Hunter Hoffman and David Patterson co-originated SnowWorld, a new technique of using immersive VR for pain control and began collaborating with Sam Sharar, MD shortly thereafter. Hunter is a VR researcher from the U.W. Human Interface Technology Laboratory with a background in human cognition and attention. Since 1993 he has been exploring ways to increase the illusion of going inside virtual worlds (presence), how VR affects allocation of attentional resources, and therapeutic applications of VR.

Cool is the next generation of SnowWorld technology. I don’t know if it includes the original SnowWorld team.

Google Glass

Emotion Recognition with Google Glass. Sension worked on facial and gesture recognition with Google Glass to locate 76 landmarks in a user’s face. Sension machine learns what it means to be engaged across the internal shape parameters of the face, giving us super accurate user engagement scores and analytical insights into the content users are interacting with in real-time

OrCam Reader

Eye glass mounted camera and bone conducting headphone. Uses your finger as the guiding gesture. An intuitive portable device with a smart camera mounted on the frames of your eyeglasses, OrCam harnesses the power of Artificial Vision to assist the visually impaired. OrCam recognizes text and products, and speaks to you through a bone-conduction earpiece.


Google Cardboard used to provide veterans a virtual reality experience of the Veterans Day Parade.

Google Cardboard is a low cost virtual reality solution that cradles a mobile phone to provide the immersive experience. Google has also worked with GoPro to develop an immersive camera rig for building movies.
There’s an app based on Samsung’s VR device for macular degeneration.

Magic Leap

Magic Leap is an Augmented Reality startup. Not much is known yet about the technology, but it allows the user to see in deep space, as opposed to the flat screen of virtual reality devices. It’s possible this projects the image into the user’s eye, rather than depend on reflective screen. This could bring VR/AR to the low-vision population.

Why Wearables?

Place Sensor Where it is Most Accurate
Glove with sensors and holding an apple

Movement and Joints

At web4all 2015 conference there was a presentation on an application for improving stability with people that have Parkinson’s. The project started with sensors mounted at the feet and hands as a proof of concept. Afterwards, the same functionality was recreated with just a phone’s built-in sensors.

There are numerous wearable/motion studies for rehabilitation.

June and L’Oreal

  • Detects UV exposure
  • Sends alert to re-apply sunscreen

The June bracelet and L’Oreal patch have UV detection sensors and alerts the user via their phone when they’re about to get sunburned and need to reapply sunscreen.

More for the skin:

Much more than steps

The wrist has traditionally been used for monitoring pulse and blood pressure. The explosion of fitness bands and smart watches have made bio-metrics common place. Samsung’s Simband brings full body metrics to the smart watch format:
These push for more:


The mouth is a great location for tracking body temperature, chemistry, movement, and impact. The SMRT Mouth Guard and Smart mouth sensor from UCSD are exploring these wearables.

Internal Wearables

Contact Lens Computer

  • Verily (AKA Google Life Sciences) Continuous monitoring of glucose levels via the eye’s tears.
  • Korean scientists are developing a soft contact lens with embedded diodes.

Ear for Audio and Biometrics

Ear based devices provide many benefits over other wearables. After years of seeing BlueTooth headphones, people don’t even notice an ear-based device. They provide hte same sightline attention as eye-based devices. They also provide much better detection of heart beat and other biometrics.

As any medical diagnostician will tell you, the ear is a far better place to access vital signs than then the wrist. Not only can one get accurate heart rate readings from the ear, but core body temperature levels as well.
‘Hearables’ could be the next wearables — and with good reason – Extreme Tech

Hearables also explore the non-visual interface



“her” is a film by Spike Jonze that explores the virtual love between a man and his wearable computer. At what point does the virtual become real? This film illustrates the immersive world of wearables.


Military Grade Vision NuEyes uses military-grade equipment to provide augmented vision for people with low-vision. Interview with user.
NuEyes Vision Assistant

Toyota Blaid

Blaid is a wearable design from Toyota that rests on the shoulders and provides audio and haptic feedback to the user to understand landmarks and spacial navigation.

Be My Eyes

By My Eyes is an app that lets blind people request guidance from sighted volunteers and paid assistants to identify objects and scenes. But why should this remain a phone based solution? Take BeMyEyes and connect it to Orcam, NuEyes, Braid, and other wearables for an immersive experience.

Navigate Jacket

Haptic Feedback: The Navigate jacket gives vibration feedback to let the user know if they should turn left or right while walking. The Glove1 – integrates haptic feedback with virtual reality goggles.

PTSD Immersion Therapy

Virtual reality devices expose veterans with PTSD to traumatic battle scenes while in the safety of a clinical environment. Repeated exposure in this controlled environment could help desensitize the person and reduce PTSD symptoms.

Mental Illness

Oculus Rift and a video production by Viscera allows family members to to experience what it’s like to be schizophrenic and gain empathy.

Nerve Stimulation

Quell stimulates the nerves for chronic pain relief. It calibrates itself to the user’s body and condition.

Applying vibrations to the feet can provide enough stimulation to trigger a threshold within individuals with limited sense of touch. This could prevent


Man Grinder by Sky
Grinders are people into electronic body modifications. Rich Lee embedded magnets in his ear lobe area. Combined with an audio loop, he’s able to hear without headphones. His ultimate goal is to use them towards

Grindhouse Wetware thinking cap stimulates brain with a direct current, potentially raising or lowering the energy of stimulated neurons, which will allow them to fire more
or less easily. This activates or deactivates a given region, which engages certain brain states.

What’s the Future?

Google I/O 2016
Google announced Soli, Jacquard, Brillo, and Weave. What will be announced at 2016? Will they be ready?
Grinders + Injectables
Grinders have already injected rf tags and have begun inserting larger objects below the skin. What happens when they move beyond skin level?
Mainstream VR / AR
Google Cardboard introduced VR to the masses, Oculus Rift should bring high quality to the marketplace. What will happen when anyone can build immersive experiences
Connected Wearables
Why can’t our bodies become a connected network of devices. Your watch should talk to your ear, finger, phone, and injectable.
Prosthetics are moving beyond replacements and pushing extraordinary physical strengths. Mind control is becoming dependable. What’s next as we take prosthetics beyond physical disabilities?
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