Prototype of the heARsight glasses
A pair of smart glasses will change how people who are hard of hearing or deaf communicate with others.
University of Notre Dame student startup is developing augmented reality smart glasses. Called heARsight, the glasses employ existing core technologies to deliver subtitles for audio inputs in real-time to empower d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. This technology is intended to improve speech comprehension and overall quality of life during in-person conversations.
Riley Ellingsen and Danny Fritz are the co-founders of heARsight. The duo met in the Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship (ESTEEM) Master of Science program at Notre Dame. Fritz, who also serves as heARsight’s chief technology officer, came up with the idea for the company when he witnessed someone close to him having increased difficulty hearing and participating in conversations during the pandemic.
“I had a girlfriend who leaned on lip-reading as a visual aid for speech comprehension. With widespread masking during the pandemic, she could no longer lip read,” Fritz explains. “One night when we were watching a movie with subtitles, I thought, ‘Why can’t we take subtitles off the screen and apply them to real-life?’”
The company plans to bundle existing core technologies to provide a visual aid that enables independent speech comprehension in a variety of settings. For example, microphones will be embedded in the frames of glasses to display “speech-to-text” words in real time on the lenses for the wearer to read. heARsight does not intend to replace hearing aids but rather serve as a visual aid that can supplement existing hearing assistive technologies to improve speech comprehension. This technology is a potential game changer for the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community.
With their concept in place, the duo decided to introduce heARsight at the 2022 McCloskey New Venture Competition, an intense, nine-month exercise in entrepreneurship for Notre Dame students, faculty, staff and alumni. The company competed and won $11,500 in prizes and in-kind services as a semifinalist. Since McCloskey, Ellingsen and Fritz have participated in the Race to Revenue accelerator program and competed in two Indiana-based competitions: Crossroads Competition, where they won the 2022 pre-seed round, earning a $10,000 investment from Flywheel Fund, and Elevate Nexus Regional Pitch Competition, where they were named a finalist. heARsight also won the 2022 Recognition in Startup Excellence (RISE) award from Aurora Consulting, from which they received a free freedom to operate assessment and provisional patent application.
If you or someone you know can benefit from heARsight Glasses, sign up for the company’s waitlist on their website, www.hearsight.net
To date, the company has raised $315,000. With this funding, heARsight plans to develop a higher-fidelity version of its prototype that can be used to test with users to define the specifications for their minimum viable product. heARsight hopes that the focused use case of subtitles will minimize computational complexity typical with augmented reality applications, enabling a discrete design that avoids stigmatization. “Startups in this space need to adequately address key consumer needs related to directional listening capabilities as well as discreet design and offline functionality,” Ellingsen says.
While still in development, the team is determining how much the glasses will cost to manufacture. “We plan[s] to offer heARsight glasses at a price point that is significantly lower than the average cost of mainstream hearing assistive technologies,” says Ellingsen.
heARsight is one of the IDEA Center’s “high potential startups.” High potential startups are companies that are more likely to scale and grow quickly compared to other companies.