O Caption, My Caption: The National Theatre rolls out accessible smartglasses

Trying out the caption glasses designed for people with hearing loss
As I prepare to take my seat in London's Olivier Theatre, I have a pair of Epson’s Moverio BT-350 smartglasses in one hand and a small controller in the other. That controller is my means of navigating items that are displayed on the smart eyewear I’m about to put on my face.

As I don those techy AR specs and look around me, it feels like I could be at a Glassholes convention in 2012. But I’m not. I’m here to test out new smart caption glasses that the National Theatre is launching as a service for those who suffer from hearing loss.

Epson is providing the hardware, while the National Theatre and Accenture worked on the tech which should make the experience of going to the theatre a significantly better and, crucially, more enjoyable one for people with hearing loss.

So here’s how it works. The glasses form part of a service that uses something called speech following technology, which can follow the phonetics of a performance and also look at cues like lighting, sound or video effects. It combines that information to provide an automated service to help those with hearing loss understand what’s happening on stage.

That information is transmitted over Wi-Fi to the glasses, letting you follow the action on stage as it happens. The text you see displayed on the glasses has been prepared by captioners, so the tech essentially listens to dialogue that’s been spoken on stage or sound effects and then broadcasts it to the glasses, giving you a synchronised transcript of dialogue and sound from the production. Unlike services currently on offer, these glasses allow you to sit anywhere in the theatre and still enjoy the show.

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The smartglass-centric service has been in the works since 2014 when the National Theatre’s technical team started to evaluate whether it was feasible to use speech following technology. After a year of testing the glasses and getting feedback from users (including adding glasses-style nose pads), the smart caption glasses are finally ready for audiences to try.

They’re free to use and 90 pairs are set to be available across the three auditoria at the NT for use at performances of War Horse and Hadestown. You’ll need to pre-book to be able to try them initially, but the hope is that in the future that booking part of the process will no longer be required. That's according to Jonathan Suffolk, technical director at the National Theatre. These glasses will not replace existing services already on offer either, but will simply be an additional option for people to try.

For full article: https://www.wareable.com/ar/national-theatre-smart-caption-smartglasses-launch-6583