With all the AR improvements and shiny new gear coming out, it is easy to sidetrack from what really counts. London’s National Theatre stays on track, and delivers a unique AR offering for those that are deaf or have difficulties hearing. Teaming up with Accenture, National Theatre has developed augmented reality based smart caption glasses that run real-time AR subtitles throughout performances.
Theaters have always been a mixed bag experience for the hearing impaired. Caption screens, noble in intention, were always a little off in terms of placement. Their beneficiaries have to shuffle their eyes on and off the stage often losing thread of the play. Likewise, Infrared induction loops worked for fine most of the time, but all too often emphasized the wrong sounds. And finally, even if they did work, these services were rarely available. Only 4% of the productions have used smart captions for instance, meaning that options have been few and far between.
AR smart caption glasses are changing the scene now. London’s National Theatre coupled with Accenture to turn Epson glasses into a caption service for live NT performances. With glasses on, the hard-of-hearing will have the captions delivered to them in real-time without looking away from the performance. After a year in progress, the Smart Glasses are currently in testing phase. The first results show that, for deaf, the AR theater glasses have the potential to walk the difference between going to see a play or not.
The technology behind the idea is within the regular AR framework. It rests on the live-subtitling technology that uses the script to navigate the real-time delivery of the captions. Sound and light effects prove useful here too. The eyewear of choice happens to be the arts-and-culture-friendly Epson Moverio BT-350. Epson’s singular model offers such features as adjustable position, subtitle size, fonts, or caption colors. With 90 of the AR Theater smart glasses at its disposal, the NT is making them available for booking with War Horse and Hadestown productions. The plan is to expand the offer to all shows, with the Macbeth production tour set to showcase the smart glasses technology.
The National Theatre is opening its doors to a whole new audience. Susan Daniels of the National Children’s Society agrees on this. ‘By developing this pioneering technology, the National Theatre is sending a powerful signal to deaf people across the country’. AR Theater Glasses are a compelling example of technology used to help people in practical, useful, noble way. They will transform the experiences of theatrical performance for deaf people, and even extend those experience to other stages of life. AR smart caption glasses are a new window onto the world for a whole group of people.
‘The play’s the thing’ the bard once said. ‘Partnering with the NT on these smart glasses is a real-life example of how we can use technology to make the experience better for patrons of the theater’ George Marcotte from Accenture Digital agrees. Indeed, innovation aside, isn’t this what technology is all about, to help the people overcome real-life difficulties? Thanks to the NT and AR mart caption glasses, we are once again reminded of the meaning of it all.