The Envision Glasses, developed by Envision, allow you to access visual information hands-free. In this blog, we will give a brief description of the Envision Glasses and an overview of how they work. Then we will outline Alice’s top 5 features, and some pros and cons.
Please note: This blog is up-to-date as of June 2023 and software version 2.2.0. We will keep this blog updated to reflect any future changes.
The Envision Glasses, developed by Envision, a company based in The Netherlands, allow you to access visual information hands-free.
The Envision Glasses are built on the Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, and first became available in 2021.
The glasses offer a range of features for reading text, finding objects, recognising faces, detecting light, and you can even use the glasses to get support from a person.
Sight And Sound Technology lent Henshaws the Envision Glasses, and we lent them to Alice, our Digital Communications Officer, who is totally blind and loves experimenting with technology.
In this blog, we will give a brief description of the Envision Glasses, and an overview of how they work. Then we will outline Alice’s Top 5 features, and some pros and cons.
How would you describe the Envision Glasses?
The Envision Glasses come in two parts: a lightweight titanium frame (like a glasses frame but with no lenses) and a device which attaches to the right-hand side of the frame. The device houses the tech, including a camera, speaker, microphone, touchpad and two buttons (a power on/off button at the top of the device, and a hinge button for activating the microphone).
You can also purchase additional frames (Fashionable Lux Frames or Smith Optics Frames). The Fashionable Lux Frames come with clear lenses, and the Smith Optics come with zero-power lenses. You can replace the pre-installed lenses on both sets of frames with custom prescription lenses if necessary.
When you first purchase the glasses, the titanium frames will be attached to the glasses body by default (this has not always been the case: previously, the body and the frames came in two separate boxes and you had to attach the frames to the body yourself).
If you decide to attach one of the other sets of frames, or you detach the body from the titanium frames accidentally and need to reattach them, Envision has an article on its website detailing how to do this.
After initially struggling, Alice read this article and has since been able to attach the body to the frame independently.
The titanium feels very delicate, but it is very robust, and the glasses are comfortable to wear; they do not feel heavy when wearing and despite overheating a little when in use, this again isn’t too uncomfortable.
How do you set up the Envision Glasses?
To set up and start using the glasses, you will need the Envision AI app. The Envision AI app is available on iOS and Android, and is completely free. Pairing the glasses with the app will enable you to set up the glasses, including connecting them to Wi-Fi and linking them with your Envision account (you need an Envision account to access Envision’s features; you can set up your account when you first download the app).
The app also features many of the functions of the glasses, including features for accessing text and finding objects.
Once you have set your glasses up using the app, you can use them completely independently of your phone. While the majority of features work without a Wi-Fi connection, it is recommended that you are connected to Wi-Fi for the best results (especially when using the features for reading text). You don’t need your phone present or the app open for the glasses to work.
How do I access the features on the glasses?
The features can be accessed from two menus: a main menu and a more features menu. You can customise these menus, so the features you use most can be in the main menu, and those you use less often can be in the More Features menu. You can move features between the two menus, and using the Envision AI app, you can reorder the menu items, for example if there is a feature you use most often, you can place that at the top of the main menu.
To navigate through the menu, you will need to perform swipe forward and back gestures. To activate a menu item, do a one-finger double tap.
All the gestures, and how to perform them, can be found in the article which we have linked to below.Learn the Envision Glasses gestures
What can you do with the Envision Glasses?
The Envision Glasses give you access to visual information hands-free.
There are different editions of the Envision Glasses, and the features you can access depend on which edition you have. The Read Edition can only be used to access text, whereas with the home and professional editions, you can access all other features including those for colour identification, object detection and scene description.
Below, we go into some of the features in detail, specifically Alice’s top 5 features, in no particular order.
What are Alice’s top 5 Envision Glasses features?
Instant Text does exactly what it says in the name: gives you instant access to text. Once activated, the Envision Glasses will read aloud whatever text the camera is capturing. This could be anything from product labels, to A4 letters, to posters on walls. You do not need to take any pictures in this mode: just present the camera with some text and the glasses will read it aloud.
Alice says: “I’ve used various devices to scan text, including my iPhone, various desktop scanners and of course the Envision Glasses. The Envision Glasses are by far the best device I have used for reading text. With the Envision Glasses, I have, for the first time, been able to identify my skincare products completely independently. I just point the packaging at the camera and the glasses read out what the product is within seconds. Because of the shape of the product and the very small text, this is something I’ve never been able to do with my smartphone. Using the Envision Glasses has given me access to even more text without sighted help.”
This feature is another way to access text, however this time, the glasses will take a picture of the text before anything is read aloud. When you activate this feature, the glasses will help you position yourself and the document so that it can take the best picture and read all of the text on the page, through a feature called Smart Guidance. If you struggle using Smart Guidance, there is a tutorial on the glasses so that you can practise, without it actually taking any pictures.
The Scan Text feature also offers some advanced functions: you can export the document to the Envision AI app so that you can read it from within the app at a later date. There is also the Ask Envision feature (powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 language model), allowing you to ask questions about the text that you have scanned, for example asking for the vegetarian options on a menu, asking the date and time of a hospital appointment, or asking for the expiry date on a food package.
Alice says: “Being completely honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Scan Text feature, because I didn’t have the patience to position my document for the best results, and I was very happy just using the Instant Text feature. However, when the Ask Envision feature was introduced, that was a complete game-changer.
When I tried this feature for the first time, I was blown away. I asked a series of questions about a letter I had received. The letter contained a username and password to access a website, so I asked ‘What is the username and password?’ and the glasses answered purely by giving me the username and password. I then asked ‘Who has this letter been signed by?’ and it told me the name of the person at the bottom of the letter.
Ask Envision has given me a reason to persevere with scanning documents and I cannot wait to experiment with it even more. This is the first time that, without sighted help, I have been able to scan a document and easily and quickly find the information I need as opposed to having to scroll through the entire document.”
Call an Aira Agent
As well as the AI-powered features, the Envision Glasses offer functions so that you can get support from a person. One of these is Call An Aira Agent.
Aira is a service that allows those who are blind or who have low vision to connect to professionally trained agents who can help with visual tasks, from reading documents, to describing appliances, to helping with navigation, and much more.
In August 2022, Aira became available on the Envision Glasses, meaning that people can make hands-free calls to agents and receive the visual information they need from a professionally trained individual.
Aira is a rather expensive service, and it isn’t for everyone: another feature of the Envision Glasses is Call An Ally, which allows you to call somebody you know such as a family member or friend, and they can assist you as they will see a video feed of what the glasses camera is capturing. Your allys need to download the Envision Ally app and create an account. Then you can add them as an ally and start making calls to them from your Envision Glasses.
Alice says: “I love being able to call Aira from the glasses. As soon as the glasses became available, I hoped that one day Aira would become a feature on them, and now it has. I trialled Aira on the glasses, and the agent was able to give me a description of the lay-out of my room, and also read me the labels on my skincare products. I was very impressed with the level of detail the agent gave: I asked the agent to describe an environment I am familiar with, so I could see how much the agent could identify.
There are caveats of using Aira on the glasses: due to the camera’s resolution, agents can’t easily read documents like letters on A4 paper, but it is great for getting overall descriptions of items, and may be useful for familiarising yourself with a new environment, such as a hotel room.”
This feature allows you to select an object from a list, and the glasses will help you to detect that object. The list of objects you can identify includes bed, cat, chair, door and laptop.
Prior to version 2.2.0 of the glasses, you would hear a sound when the selected object was detected, however, version 2.2.0 introduces major changes. When you select an object, the glasses will now announce the name of the object, followed by its position; the position is indicated through clock-notation. To give an example, if you select laptop and a laptop is detected to the right of the camera, the glasses would say ‘laptop 3 o’clock.’
Alice says: “I wouldn’t really use this feature for any particular reason: it’s just one I like because it’s a bit of fun. I’m really happy to see that Envision has refined this feature so that it gives positional information about the object, as there have been many occasions when the glasses would indicate the selected object was visible, but I’d then discover that it wasn’t directly in front of me, so having this additional information makes the feature more useful.
When testing, it was more accurate detecting certain objects compared to others, for example I selected Laptop and it gave me the position of my laptop accurately, but when I selected Door, it struggled to identify the doors as easily.”
This isn’t a feature you would find within the menu: instead, it runs throughout the glasses.
As mentioned above, you can use Voice Commands to activate menu items, as an alternative to navigating using the touchpad.
For example, you can just say ‘Open instant Text’ and that feature will open. You may also say ‘change volume’ and it will open the slider so you can adjust the volume.
To use Voice Commands, hold down the hinge button and you will hear a tone. This is exactly the same as when you want to ask a question about a piece of text when using the Scan Text feature.
Alice says: “Using voice commands is a great alternative to using the touchscreen. The touchpad is great, however it is very small and it can be a bit cumbersome to do multiple swipes to access a menu item, especially if it is at the bottom or in the ‘more features’ menu. Using voice commands means I can just open a menu item quickly, without having to locate it. It’s especially useful for going from one feature to another, for example Instant Text to Scan Text.”
What are the pros and cons of the Envision Glasses?
As well as listing some of the features, we also wanted to highlight some of the overall pros and cons:
- Hands-free – First and foremost, the Envision Glasses are hands-free, completely wireless, lightweight and portable. If using them while out and about, you can connect them to your phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Feature-rich – The Envision Glasses have a wide range of features, giving you multiple tools on one device. You can use AI-powered features, as well as human support, giving you multiple methods of obtaining visual information.
- Updates – The Envision Glasses are updated regularly, to maintain existing features, and introduce new ones. This means that the glasses are constantly evolving. There is, however, a caveat: when you purchase the Envision Glasses Read or Home Edition, you will only get feature updates free for a year; after that, you will need to subscribe. Maintenance updates are free for a lifetime, regardless of which edition you buy. Envision also provides regular communications updates through social media, emails, and monthly webinars.
- Cost – The Envision Glasses come with a hefty price tag. Excluding VAT, the Read Edition costs £1,799.00, the Home Edition costs £2,299.00, and the Professional Edition costs £2,999.00.
- Compatibility – In order to start using the glasses, you need to set them up using the Envision AI app. However, the app is only available on iOS and Android phones that give you access to the Play Store, therefore if you use a different operating system, or a specialist device running on Android such as the BlindShell phone, using the glasses will be more tricky. You could ask somebody who has iOS or a compatible Android device to download the Envision AI app and set up the glasses on your behalf, however, this will mean limitations: you will not be able to independently reorder menu items, and you will not be able to export text if using the Scan Text feature.
- Audio output – The Envision Glasses purely use audio output to communicate information. This means that they would not be suitable for somebody who relies on a different output method, such as Braille. The glasses also do not provide any haptic feedback or vibrations; everything is indicated through sounds and speech.
What are Alice’s final thoughts?
“Back in 2019, I tried the OrCam, another wearable device for accessing visual information. However, I really struggled to get on board with it and just couldn’t get it to do what I needed it to.
I worried that I would experience the same with the Envision Glasses, but of course, I needed to try them as opposed to just assuming, and I’m so glad I did.
Using the Envision Glasses has restored my faith in using wearable technology. Just to give one example, being able to completely independently, without sighted assistance, access the labels on my skincare products has been a game-changer.
The Envision Glasses came into their own when, one night at around 10:15 pm, I wanted to use one of my skincare products. I knew exactly what the packaging of the product felt like, however, I have two products in that particular packaging. I turned on my Envision Glasses, opened the Instant Text feature, and pointed one of the products at the camera, and within seconds, I knew what it was…and it was the one I wanted to use! This is something I’d never be able to do easily with a smartphone, without calling for human support.
If it weren’t for the price tag, I would buy the Envision Glasses without even thinking about it. However, right now, I can’t justify buying them when there are other cheaper, albeit less efficient, methods for accessing visual information that work for me. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t buy the Envision Glasses in the future and I am very grateful to Henshaws for lending me them so I can trial them.
I think the Envision Glasses are brilliant, and with AI advancing through language models like GPT-4, I think they are only going to get better and I cannot wait to find out what is to come in the future, concerning both the Envision Glasses, and independent access to visual information more generally.”
How can I find out more and buy the Envision Glasses?
If you would like to find out more about the Envision Glasses, a good starting point is Envision’s own website. The website contains lots of information about both the app and the glasses, including how-to tutorials, updates and testimonials.
If you would like to purchase the Envision Glasses, you can do so from Sight And Sound Technology.
You can also watch the video below, featuring Mark Belcher, our Head Of Enablement, describing and demonstrating the Envision Glasses and some of their features.
Please note: This video was filmed in March 2021, when the glasses used a different menu structure (which placed the features into categories), and some features like Call An Aira Agent, Ask Envision, and Smart Guidance weren’t available.
The video was filmed before the glasses were shipped with the body already attached to the titanium frames.
Find Object is demonstrated in this video, before clock-notation positional information was introduced.
The video should hopefully give you a sense of what the glasses sound like, and the features available.