Pole-dancing robots and power outages may have stolen the headlines at CES 2018, but underneath is a bigger story of health tech that really could improve lives in a meaningful way.
Case in point: the Relúmĭno glasses. The glasses, a creation of Samsung's spin-off C-Labs program, are designed to aid the vision of people who are partially sighted, and will cover a host of various impairments.
I don't suffer from any of these conditions, so Samsung gave me a pair of glasses with clouded lenses to replicate the eyesight of a person with cataracts. Once I put them on the world was blurry, and only vague outlines of people around me were discernible. Then I was handed a Gear VR headset to place over the top. All of a sudden those outlines were a little easier to see as the software, which uses the passthrough camera, sketched outlines around the people and objects in my vision.
Ever seen Archer? It was like the world had been transformed into that type of animation - like I was living in a piece of pop art. I started to walk around, more confident now that I could see exactly where someone began and ended, even if everything in between was still a bit blurry. I could also use the touchpad on the side of the headset to zoom in.
But this wasn't exactly new: Samsung launched the Relúmĭno for Gear VR back in August. What was new at CES was Samsung's ambition to take this into a smartglasses form-factor.
I can see clearly now
So I took off the headset and swapped it for a pair of what looked like sunglasses. These were tethered to a smartphone that I had to hold in one hand, while I used the Gear VR controller in the other to adjust focus.
At this point I was no longer wearing the glasses, so I could more clearly see what was happening. Once again everyone had been cartoonised, each face looking like it had been sketched.
There were some other modes too, including one that inverts colours for reading and another that fills in blind spots using image remapping.
Jeonghun Cho, leader on the Relúmĭno project, told me that the glasses will be able to aid a range of impairments: glaucoma, macular degeneration, myopia and more. But rather than start at each condition and build an individual solution for it, the team are instead creating such a depth of customisation that the glasses should be able to accommodate a broad range of eyesight needs.
Cho said he thinks it will be around two more years before Relúmĭno is ready for market. There's also the matter of deciding whether the company will remain in-house at Samsung or go off into its own thing. Cho said there will be a discussion around the exit strategy in June this year.
But what I saw at the show left no doubt in my mind that C-Labs is onto something significant here. Like Bragi's Project Ears, this is wearable tech for people who need it the most.
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