Tech4Good: Emerging digital technologies will transform the lives of millions
Last year, as the National Theatre’s Partner for Innovation, we announced the launch of the pilot phase of our Open Access Smart Capture smart glasses. This ambitious project aimed to transform the way in which live captioning is provided to D/deaf and hard of hearing theatre patrons, and today we’re delighted to mark its public launch. The service is a great example of how technology and digital expertise can be harnessed to deliver substantial benefits for those in need and is part of a growing intent to create ‘Tech4Good’. Increasingly, emerging innovations are helping people with disabilities break down boundaries while making the world more accessible for all. It’s a refreshing break from narratives that focus on the potential ills of technology and reminds us that it can also be a powerful force for progressive change in our societies.
Enabling access to the National Theatre
The National Theatre’s smart caption glasses are set to transform access to theatre for audiences with hearing loss. By projecting captions in real time onto the glasses’ lenses, users can see the dialogue in front of their eyes. This means that they can sit in any seat in the house, for any performance and still enjoy the show. Their only option before was attending the two or three performances in any production run where caption screens sat next to the stage. The smart caption glasses give anyone who is D/deaf or hard of hearing the freedom to experience performances how and when they want to. The impact of this innovation on this audience is hard to overstate: as one of our test users commented – it’s the difference between being able to go to the theatre whenever you choose or simply staying away.
Jonathan Suffolk, Technical Director at the National Theatre oversaw the project and has seen its impact on users first-hand. “The NT leads the way in technical innovation in the theatre industry, and these smart glasses are an extension of our ongoing ambition to improve and enhance audience access to theatre. I think the phrase ‘game-changing’ gets overused, but this is one of those times where it’s more than apt. Our test group who are D/deaf or hard of hearing are genuinely excited about the potential for Open Access Smart Capture technology to transform their theatre-going experience”.
Overcoming challenges with tech
Technology is also being used to help improve access in the workplace. A great example of this is the AI-powered smartphone app that’s been developed by our team in Bangalore, India. Drishti, as the solution is called, uses image recognition, and both natural language processing and generation capabilities to describe a workplace environment to a visually-impaired person. The app tells the user important information such as the number of people in a room, their ages, genders and even emotions (based on facial expressions). Drishti can also be used to narrate text from books and documents and identify obstructions like glass doors to improve the safety of the user.
However, Tech4Good isn’t only about improving access: it can also help people with disabilities overcome some of the challenges related to their conditions. An inspirational example of one such project is the work we’re doing in Brazil to help amputees overcome phantom limb pain. To ease the pain people with this condition experience, a team in São Paulo developed a digitally connected armband that can electronically circumvent the brain impulses that cause the associated pain. It usually takes a year for phantom limb pain to dissipate, but through this technology the effects can be ameliorated immediately.
What the future holds
Tech is, therefore, already helping us change the world for the better and improving the lives of people in new and far-reaching ways. The good news is that we’re only just getting started. As technology improves and becomes increasingly attuned to our human needs we will be able to transform the lives of millions of people. From improving access to overcoming challenges in their daily lives, technology can provide people the help they need to live the lives they want to live. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.