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eSight Release: Groundbreaking Digital Eyewear Helps the Blind See

8/28/2013 9:41:46 AM

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August 28, 2013 -- Yvonne Felix, a legally blind mother of two young boys, has had her life transformed by revolutionary eyewear developed by eSight, in Ottawa, Ontario.

“For the first time, I’ve been able to watch my kids in the park from a distance and not worry.”

Felix is just one of the estimated 187 million people worldwide who live with low vision, often the result of macular degeneration, Stargardt’s Disease, diabetic retinopathy or other medical conditions. A person is considered to have low vision if they have some sight but not enough to recognize a familiar face or avoid tripping over a hazard. This low visual acuity cannot be corrected by prescription lenses or surgery.

The groundbreaking eyewear developed by eSight has life-changing potential for millions of people globally. The wearable assistive device was recently licensed by both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.It has generated interest from as far away as South America and the Middle East.

The eSight system has two lightweight components: a headset and a controller.In the headset, a forward-pointing high-resolution video camera sends a signal to the controller. An algorithm converts the data to match the wearer’s preferences, and the signal is sent back to LED displays on the inner surface of the headset.

For the wearer, the result is similar to watching a 60-inch TV at 7 feet. The impact on lives can be huge. For some, it means being able to read a book or watch a sporting event for the first time in years. For others, it opens new job opportunities.

“The stories we hear from all over the world are just remarkable,” says eSight CEO Kevin Rankin.

“This is a new class of wearable assistive technology that can change peoples’ lives on a very deep, personal level.”

That focus on the real-world effects on individuals can be traced back to eSight’s origins. Founder Conrad Lewis is a highly successful Ottawa-based technology entrepreneur whose wife and two sisters have low vision. He witnessed their frustrations and decided it was time to do something about it. He assembled a team of leading experts from both the medical and engineering worlds to develop a solution. Fortunately, some of those experts were just down the street. Ottawa has so many high-tech companies it is sometimes referred to as “Silicon Valley North.” It is also home to one of Canada’s top research centres in ophthalmology, the Eye Institute at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.Lewis tapped into both those pools of expertise and began an intensive period of research and development.Together with his wife, Susan, he founded and funded eSight. Over the next few years, eSight’s radical new vision technology was developed and refined with the help of experts from the CNIB, the University of Waterloo’s School of Vision, Lighthouse International, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and many others.

“We’ve been blessed to have so many people and organizations who have helped us,” says eSight CEO Rankin.

“It has allowed us to reach far beyond our original expectations.”

The headset weighs 180 grams (six ounces) and the unit has a four-hour battery life with an optional second battery. The units are produced in Ottawa by Sanmina, a California-based electronics manufacturing contractor.

“There’s been a ton of work done to make it comfortable to wear for an extended period of time,” says Rankin.

The eSight eyewear technology is expected to be more widely available in 2014 at a cost of just under $10,000. While this may seem expensive, Rankin points to studies that estimate the economic cost of someone with low vision to be more than $45,000 annually in terms of additional healthcare expenses, lost productivity and premature mortality. But the total cost goes beyond money, he says.

“The real price includes all those instances when low vision stands as a barrier to someone holding a job or engaging in society to their fullest potential,” he says.

“The value of eSight is that it can help people overcome that barrier and change their lives for the better.”

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