Yellowish-white circle against a background of pixilated purples, reds and oranges deepening to black.
Experimenting through the eSight 4 Camera 24X Magnification of the Great Conjunction, December 21, 2020

eSight 4 Powering my Sight to 20/20

I self-identify as a person who is visually impaired or has low vision. Born with an inherited retinal disease, X-Recessive Blue Cone Monochromacy, my vision has been correctable to only about 20/100 since the second grade. At the risk of oversimplifying, my vision is roughly 20% of normal. There is good news though. Based on extensive family history, my sight likely will not deteriorate much at all with age. If you want to learn more, just ping me on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, or read what I have written previously for Medium.

Enter Toronto-based eSight, a technology company making augmented or enhanced reality glasses to greatly improve the eyesight of many people who are visually impaired or legally blind. You can find my 2018 article about their eSight 3 eyewear on LinkedIn Pulse. Recently, they released their much improved eSight 4, and I have a set to try! So, let’s get into it.

Bottom Line

Great First Impression

eSight 4 wraps around the periphery of its padded carry case’s interior with a rectangular cardboard spacer in the center.
eSight 4 wraps around the periphery of its padded carry case’s interior with a rectangular cardboard spacer in the center.
eSight 4 Nestled in its Carry Bag for Shipping

When a $6,000 (USD) piece of technology arrives at your front door, it should be well-packed, and eSight 4 meets expectations. Like a Matryoshka doll, inside the carrying case inside the colorful retail box inside the shipping box is a pair of the new eSight Version 4. Immediately apparent is the absence of wires, which were such an encumbrance with eSight 3. Wireless capability is one of many significant improvements.

eSight 4 battery with 4 bright yellow lights in the center indicating it’s 100% charged and electrical contacts on the right.
eSight 4 battery with 4 bright yellow lights in the center indicating it’s 100% charged and electrical contacts on the right.
Simply shake the eSight 4 battery to light the charge indicator. 100% is indicated by four lights, 75% by three lights, and so on.

A challenge with eSight 3 is the difficulty for some users to see if the unit is fully charged. This will be a different experience for everyone who is visually impaired, but it is easy for me to see that the eSight 4 batteries are fully charged. Another nice detail is the batteries were fully charged right out of the box. It may be a small thing, but it’s an important detail when you want to get started. That literally saved several hours.

eSight 4 remote battery compartment with 2 batteries inserted and the battery cover dangling below attached by the lanyard.
eSight 4 remote battery compartment with 2 batteries inserted and the battery cover dangling below attached by the lanyard.
The remote control’s battery cover is tethered to the remote.

eSight 4 can be controlled with a remote that is similar to a TV remote. One of the outstanding user-centric details is you just cannot drop the battery cover. Note in the photo of the remote control battery compartment on the left that the lanyard is threaded through the compartment cover. That’s a really cool detail, especially for people who are visually impaired. You can’t drop the cover, because it is tethered to the remote itself.

eSight 4 can also be controlled with an app on your smartphone and controls on the right temple of the glasses themselves. Each of these options works differently, so you may find that one of the options or a combination works best for you.

eSight 4 battery receptacle (bottom) with two electrical contacts to allow battery (top) installation in either orientation.
eSight 4 battery receptacle (bottom) with two electrical contacts to allow battery (top) installation in either orientation.
eSight battery receptacle (bottom left) and battery (top right)

Another important detail is that you cannot put the battery into the eSight 4 glasses themselves incorrectly. To the left is a photo of the battery receptacle on the back of the glasses (bottom left) and the battery (top right). You can see two sets of contacts in the receptacle to accommodate inserting the battery in either orientation. So, there’s no need to figure out the polarity. Just plug and go! Again, that’s great recognition of the needs of their users who often cannot see the orientation of the battery.

This foolproof design is really helpful when you’re on the go. Assuming your hair isn’t in the way, you can swap out the batteries without even taking time to take off eSight 4!

A Compliment to My Arsenal of EyeGlasses

Man looking at the camera wearing a mask and eSight 4 in the down position over prescription sunglasses.
Man looking at the camera wearing a mask and eSight 4 in the down position over prescription sunglasses.
Either My eSight 4’s Over Prescription Maui Jim Sunglasses or a Social-Distancing Marvel Comic Book Character in Desperate Need of a Haircut

Another major improvement is that eSight 4 can be worn over my regular prescription glasses. That’s a huge improvement over eSight 3 that require a dedicated pair of prescription glasses — at least two in my case, one clear and one tinted — that would snap into the unit. Like so many people who are low vision, I have a collection of clear glasses for various applications including single-vision for distance, tri-focals, and computer glasses — and three colors of Maui Jim sunglasses for different situations. So if the wearer doesn’t need enhanced vision for a moment, you just swing eSight 4 up. This also represents a significant cost savings for me of $800.

One of the aspects of my low vision condition is light sensitivity. Sunglasses help enormously, even indoors and while watching television. The ability to wear eSight 4 over my prescription sunglasses is a tremendous feature and will benefit others whose vision experience includes photosensitivity.

Goin’ Mobile, Mobile, Mobile, Yeah!

Roadside sign that says ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY A Partnership for Litter-Free Florida Highways.
Roadside sign that says ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY A Partnership for Litter-Free Florida Highways.
Photo of a Roadside Sign taken with the eSight 4 camera at 3X magnification using the Image Freeze function (from the passenger seat at 60mph)

While certainly not an application for everyone, riding in the car—not driving, of course — is far and away my favorite eSight 4 application. It really is remarkable how much detail passes by that is indistinguishable without magnification.

Experimenting with magnification is essential to find the right balance between detail and image stability. For me, 3X magnification works best in the car. Some people who are susceptible to motion sickness may not be able to try this application at all. That said, it’s best to view through the front windshield, because magnified images pass by too quickly to recognize them through the side windows.

The eSight 4 image is inherently more stable than its predecessor, because eSight 4 fits so much more securely on the wearer’s head than eSight 3. Unfortunately, just like using a long lens in photography, it’s nearly impossible to keep my body still enough at long focal lengths (i.e., high magnifications). So if I could have one eSight 4 improvement, it would be image stabilization much like what is available in modern digital SLR cameras. In photography, image stabilization works great in some situations and less well in others. So the ideal eSight 4 implementation would follow the lead of a good photo-quality lens and be able to toggle image stabilization on or off.

Wireless or Not, Here We Go!

One of my mentors stressed that if you plan a huge change to a product that impacts how people use it, make the old way an option if you possibly can. That’s exactly what the developers of eSight 4 have done. More than an accommodation for people who don‘t like change, it is recognition that some applications actually work better with a cable. In fact, there are sometimes advantages to using a cable over a wireless connection.

A Theater Experience

A feature of eSight 4 that is just fantastic is that the user can pan left or right, up or down, simply by moving your head to look in the desired direction. It’s as intuitive as turning your head to follow a moving object.

Then there was the experience with the not-so-highly-regarded CBS app Version 7.4.15 (3148), Player Version 9.0.0. With the setup above, neither the audio nor video would work when I tried to watch the most recent episode of Star Trek Discovery (yes, I am ambidextrous). When I put away the AirPods Pro and used the eSight’s audio, the setup worked but the CBS app’s buffering capabilities (or lack thereof) prevented a good test. What I finally did was disconnect the HDMi cable and watch the episode through the eSight 4 viewer (as glasses) with audio coming from my AirPods Pro. That was just fine. The video quality wasn’t quite as good as the eSight 4 HDMi experience, but it was far better than my unaided eyes.

Many people who are struggling with the CBS app’s buffering in general recommend watching CBS programming via Amazon Prime Video. So for Amazon Prime users, I was able to verify we can watch CBS content — like Star Trek Discovery — via the Prime Video for iPhone app (Version 8.193.6224.3). The HDMi connection and AirPods Pro worked flawlessly.

A Process of Adjustment

First, eSight is providing quite a bit more information about my surroundings than I have ever been able to see. There is quite a lot to process. Initially, fatigue would set in after about an hour of using the eSight 4. Gradually, I have been able to increase usage over time to about four hours. Accordingly, I only wear my eSight 4 when necessary. If it’s possible to be fully effective without, then I give my eyes and my eSight 4 a break.

Second, while the battery in back counterbalances the lenses and computer in front. it does take some time to learn how to wear the eSight 4’s weight and hat or ring comfortably. It’s simply a different feeling than a ball cap or one of my Stetsons. After a few weeks, it was easy to forget I am wearing eSight 4.

eSight 4 pupil distance test pattern with a yellow cross in the center inside a yellow border on a field of grey.
eSight 4 pupil distance test pattern with a yellow cross in the center inside a yellow border on a field of grey.
eSight 4 Pupil Alignment Test Screen

A setting that requires careful attention is adjusting eSight 4 to match your pupil-to-pupil distance. The process is to move the left eye-piece until the image of the cross shown at the left is clear. Then the process is repeated with your right eye. Finally, you fine tune with both eyes open. Before taking time to get this exactly right, my eyes felt as though they were crossing. So take time to get this right.

Something that would help improve this adjustment is a black-and-white color combination for the focus pattern. The yellow over grey does not work well for my vision condition. In fact, the yellow is so bright that it is difficult for me to see the edges crisply. It’s a lot like looking at the headlight of an oncoming car at night. A white cross on a black background would be best for my condition, but even black on white would be a significant improvement.

Ask for Help!

Just the Beginning

As I learn more from my experience, however, the plan is to share more. The goal is to publish an update in January as the journey continues.

Ken Gray is Director Emeritus of the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, retired Director of Caterpillar Inc.’s Building Construction Products, Excavation, and Analytics & Innovation Divisions. Ken holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Bradley University and has completed executive development programs at Bradley University, the Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland and Stanford University.

Award-Winning Innovator, Product & Operations Executive, Entrepreneur, Strategist, Leader, Board Member, Keynote Speaker