Paul Schroeder at the MagicaVision booth, trying their Android phone Paul Schroeder at the MagicaVision booth

On the second day of the official CES, John Lilly and I spent most of the day among the home, health, and fitness area of the show. At Whirlpool we learned that a line of “connected” kitchen appliances will soon be launched in the US. As with the connected washer and dryer, these are toward the top of the line, so they won’t be cheap, but the Whirlpool app does seem to work reasonably well with VoiceOver and they are interested in continuing to improve it.

Every year, CES attracts a bunch of start-up companies and entrepreneurs who seem right out of Shark Tank casting. This year, companies from France are much in evidence. French start-up MagicaVision is here at CES showing an Android phone designed specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired. The phone (shaped like a TV remote control) features a touchscreen display on one side and tactile buttons on the other side. Besides phone functions, the device will also work as a TV remote, color and light detector, obstacle detector, and more. The company says it will launch the device in France later this spring and hopes to bring it to the US late in 2016. The target price is $199. You can find some information at the website magicavision.fr/English.

Polymer Braille Inc., a North Carolina company that hopes to revolutionize braille display technology is also here at CES. Their concept is to use advanced polymer plastic to create the force to drive the braille pins. They do not have a prototype display to show yet, but their hope is to launch a multi-line display within a year. Unfortunately, many promising attempts to create new braille displays have failed.

With virtual reality just around the corner, John is working to get a leg up on some of the different products and research on display at CES 2016 since there is a possibility that virtual reality can be used to assist individuals with low vision. Here’s his update.

Oculus announced the consumer release of their Rift virtual reality headset with a price point of $600. This sounds a little pricey, but it is ultimately a video game device and the first release by Oculus.

Samsung’s Gear VR also made an appearance at the huge Samsung booth. This headset is unique because it is available for $99, but also requires a recent Samsung mobile phone that is used as the display. Since the display is not integrated, this would make the product a little more portable.

I also had the opportunity to test out some research done by Purdue University where they are developing a device that allows virtual reality devices to track forward and back positioning in 3D space. For example, they had a virtual solar system on display and when you looked at a planet and moved forward, you would zoom into that planet. The currently available virtual reality headsets only allow for side-to-side and up-and-down movements. This technology would be a great addition for virtual reality.

Finally, I stopped at the NuEyes booth, CES 2016 winner for technology that improves lives. While not exactly virtual reality, NuEyes is a head-mounted display aimed at helping individuals with low vision. This device is a very compact set of smart glasses that looks like a normal set of sunglasses with a few alterations including a camera and display integrated into it. The smart glasses are designed to fit over the top of your normal eyeglasses and enhance the usable vision by zooming and changing contrast. The glasses feature image stabilization so when you’re zoomed in far, the image in focus doesn’t jump around. The glasses can also be operated with voice commands as well as swipe commands on the side to change the zoom and contrast options.

CES 2016 is still going strong, and there are many more booths to visit, so we will keep you updated on any new technology we come across. Look for a full wrapup in AccessWorld® next week!

Also, check out the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ Foundation announcement of an initiative in collaboration with IBM that will research how cognitive computing can provide better information to help transform the lives of the world's growing aging population and persons with disabilities.

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