As the internet continuously allows us to customize the way we consume media, many of us have become reliant on our “emotional support subtitles.” We simply turn on the closed caption setting when a video graces our screens, and the rest is history.
But for folks who are deaf or hard of hearing, subtitles are not just a boost to their experience — they are necessary. And for others who face language barriers, captions and translations are a vital resource for connecting and understanding others.
So, it’s no surprise that most humans — whether they have a hearing disability or just can’t bear the awkward interaction of saying “huh?” more than once — dream of a way to bring subtitles to the real world.
That's why two inventors decided to bring this tech off our screens and into reality — well, augmented reality.
What is TranscribeGlass?
TranscribeGlass is a startup founded by duo — Tom Pritsky and Madhav Lavakare — who are connected to the world of assistive technology.
The device itself is an AR wearable that attaches to a pair of glasses and pairs with a transcription software to project real-time captions in front of your eyes.
Lavakare was inspired to create TranscribeGlass as a high school student after learning that a friend had dropped out of school due to accessibility issues. Early prototypes of a heads-up cpationing solution won Lavakare several international design awards and even led to grant funding from Pfizer and the U.S. State Department.
Independently, Tom Pritsky's personal struggle with hearing loss inspired him to make heads-up captioning a reality by developing software solutions for existing augmented reality headsets. The two joined forces in 2021, while Lavakare was at Yale and Pritsky was at Stanford, to bring TranscribeGlass to the market.
Pritsky, who is getting a Master’s degree in biomedical informatics, has bilateral hearing loss and uses hearing aids and lip reading to communicate, according to the Stanford Daily. He wanted a way to “see the conversation.”
Lavakare has transitioned most of his responsibilities to Pritsky, who now leads the company as CEO and co-founder while Lavakare remains an active advisor and shareholder.
While it might look a little like an accessory that a superhero tech sidekick would wear in front of their nine computer monitors, this device is truly a game-changer. In fact, TranscribeGlass caught the attention of millions of TikTok viewers earlier this week, culminating in nearly six million views in just 24 hours.
In the viral video, Pritsky is shown on screen, a glasses lens in front of the camera, showing the device in action as it displays the real-time transcription of his speech.
“With our device, you can actually see everything I say in your field of view, in real time, while also getting a good sense of my lips, my environment, and everything else around me,” he says.
Up to this point, the alternative options for those who are deaf or hard of hearing have typically been heads-down transcription technologies that keep people from making eye contact, lip-reading, or observing the full surroundings of an environment.
TikTok viewers were immediately eager to learn more.
“OK AS A SCIENTIST I NEED SO MUCH MORE INFORMATION PLEASE,” one person wrote, with caps-lock enthusiasm.
“Subtitles in real life?” another commented. “Yes please!!”
Many were curious about how the device works in a group of people or a crowded room, if the device has language translation capabilities, or even the placement of the words on the glass.
Pritsky quickly made a follow-up video addressing some questions and urged viewers to ask more questions.
First, he addressed, the design is intended to be light-weight and have a full-day battery life.
“The other really cool thing about TranscribeGlass is that it retrofits, meaning it can mount onto the glasses you’re already wearing,” Pritsky explains.
For folks who already have prescription glasses, the device can be used “right out of the box” and be easily clipped onto existing glasses. (But it also comes with empty spectacle frames if you have 20/20 vision.)
According to the TranscribeGlass website, users also have full control of how captions are displayed, allowing them to change font sizes, adjust the position of the text to be on top, below, or beside a speaker — and the choice of language.
The TranscribeGlass app works in companionship with the device through Bluetooth, connects to any caption source or transcription software, streams conversations in real time, and can even save transcripts for later reference.
TranscribeGlass is still in beta testing, but those who are interested in trying it out can sign up easily online prior to the anticipated winter 2023 launch. It is not yet clear how much the device will cost.
While there are certainly still features to perfect and integrate into the final design, the general consensus (according to TikTok) is: Wow.
“This is one of the best inventions I’ve seen in a long time,” one user wrote on TranscribeGlass’s first video.
Another chimed in: “This is the future.”