One of the most anguishing consequences of advanced Alzheimer’s disease is that patients fail to recognise their loved ones’ faces. This is due both to patients’ fading memory and to the deterioration of their faculty for “holistic perception”—the visual process that helps us recall a “mental name tag” when we see a known person’s face. Needless to say, such forgetfulness is painful and distressing for both patients and their families. That is why an American startup is combining augmented reality (AR) and machine learning to tackle this symptom.

New Jersey-based ThirdEye presented its X1 Smart Glasses at CES 2018 in Las Vegas. “AR technology has reached a point where it can be miniaturised enough to be able to fit on people’s faces, but it is also powerful enough to have features that make a difference,” says founder and CEO Nick Cherukuri. The company has fitted its headset with a neural network that can be trained to recognise human faces. The headset can process several pictures of an Alzheimer’s patient’s loved ones and learn to label those people every time they are in front of the glasses.

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Images courtesy of ThirdEye
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“You train the glasses so that they’ll show your relatives’ names when you see them,” Cherukuri explains. “So, when you, a patient, look at your loved ones, a label will appear next to them, with their name and other key information—such as: ‘This is Steve, your husband…’”

Cherukuri says that ThirdEye is already receiving orders for the X1 Smart Glasses, slated to be shipped in March 2018. He emphasizes that this is not the only possible healthcare use for the device: for instance, the glasses might support “telehealth” programs by streaming footage directly to doctors of what patients in far-flung locations can see. Non-healthcare-related applications range from entertainment to education.

One big challenge? Making the headset look cooler.

“Eventually we want them to be similar to a pair of glasses,” says Cherukuri.

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