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Augmented reality improves movie experience for the hearing impaired

Photo Credit: University of Auckland

Researchers from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, at the University of Auckland, have developed a new technology that allows the hearing impaired to watch a movie at whatever cinema they like, and never miss a line of dialogue.

According to a recent report, the Vivify headset uses augmented reality to project subtitles below the cinema screen.

History behind the device

The system was developed by two researchers when they were both studying their PhD at the Institute.

The idea for the device came out of a late-night conversation, when they were planning to watch a movie and one of the developers, who is hearing impaired, expressed his wish that more movies came with subtitles.

Subtitle data is included in most movies, but cinemas in New Zealand rarely use it, so cinematic options for the hearing-impaired are extremely limited.

Their idea went on to win the Velocity Challenge at the University of Auckland in 2015 worth NZ$ 1,000, which they used to develop the first prototype.

Challenges faced

During its beginning stages, the most challenging aspect of the project was finding someone in the cinema industry to speak with so that they can learn if their idea was viable and if the industry would support such technology being used in cinemas.

Eventually they managed to present their idea to one of the cinemas, which thought it a good one and encouraged them to develop the headsets.

The pair established the start-up company, Vivify, in 2017.

Changes and future plans

The initial prototype was “was pretty bulky”. However, several iterations have been done since then. Changes were made in response to feedback from people participating in pilot trials.

These trials had participants wear the headsets while watching a movie.

One of the changes was finding a way to make the subtitles stay in place when people turned their heads, to talk to their neighbour, for instance.

The subtitles would follow the user, which can be annoying and distracting.

While their current prototype involved customising off-the-shelf headsets, they plan to build headsets from scratch, make them more aesthetically pleasing and lighter.

The current prototype model is connected to an iPhone that comes with the headset, but if they can dispense with the phone it make the headset much lighter.

They are also working on adding other languages and expect to have Chinese subtitles working by the end of June.

Trial underway

The current trial may reveal the need for further refinements but there is already good evidence that the headsets will be very much in demand.

They have received a lot of requests from across New Zealand, asking them to run trials in cinemas in their cities. This outpouring of requests is very encouraging, showing that there is clamour for this technology.

The pair also plans to run free trials over the next few months which, for interested participants, will include a free movie admission and the free use of the headsets.


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