By Ariel Visconti
A remarkable technology that has received a recent explosion of international media coverage got off the ground with Ontario Centres of Excellence’s (OCE’s) help.
eSight Eyewear, from Ottawa-based eSight Corp.
, has been featured on CNN, USA Today, ABC News, People.com, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, The Mirror Online and more after a video of a legally blind Guelph woman seeing her newborn son for the first time by using the high-tech glasses went viral. The video has more than three million views on YouTube, and the story had been picked up by over 250 outlets worldwide as of the end of January.
eSight’s glasses are designed to help people with low vision gain independence and more fully participate in daily activities by enhancing their existing vision to see things they couldn’t before. The device works by sending real-time video feed from the headset to the controller, which uses advanced algorithms and customized settings to enhance the images. The optimized feed is then sent back to the headset and displayed on OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes.
eSight’s sophisticated technology came to market in 2013 after several years of development, and OCE is proud to have supported the company during the critical early stages.
“It is wonderful to see how eSight’s technology has had such profound impact on someone’s life and very gratifying to know we were able to play a part in supporting this company,” says OCE President Dr. Tom Corr. “This speaks directly to one of OCE’s primary roles, which is being there at a critical point to help young companies with breakthrough products and great potential get the support they need to reach their business goals while helping to make the world a better place.”
OCE first supported eSight in 2007 through Interact funding for a feasibility study, followed by a Collaborative Research project with the Ottawa Health Research Institute to develop the system’s complex algorithms and build the hardware. The 18-month project, with an OCE investment of $132,000, resulted in a fully functional prototype that allowed eSight to secure follow-on funding.
In 2008/09 OCE again worked with eSight, providing $190,000 through two Market Readiness projects geared towards market analysis and building a scalable prototype. The larger project engaged the expertise of Quebec technology design company INO and leveraged over $1 million in additional industry funds. The two projects produced a market adoption study and next-generation headset that positioned eSight to raise the $9 million in additional financing necessary to bring its innovation to market.
“We are surrounded by amazing technology and products these days" says John Fielding, Director of Business Development at OCE, “but it is rare that a product can evoke such emotion as eSight’s does." John worked with eSight to help them secure their funding. “Working with them was extra special for me as my father is legally blind and could have benefitted from their transformative technology.”
Currently about 140 people in North America are benefiting from using eSight Eyewear, but this number is set to increase given the recent flood of attention. The eSight website is filled with wonderful stories
of people whose lives have been changed with eSight’s help. Since the video of Kathy Beitz and her newborn went viral, eSight has received thousands of calls and emails inquiring about the glasses. The company, which currently has 10 employees, expects to expand to meet the rising demand.