Vuzix smart glasses contract will help U.S. war veterans 'see' again

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vuzix Corp, a maker of computer smart glasses used in industry, said on Wednesday it is venturing into a new market with a system that helps restore vision to U.S. military veterans who lost sight in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Smart glasses have found growing acceptance in industry, helping factory workers follow assembly instructions or find items in a warehouse. Forrester Research estimates 14.4 million U.S. workers will be wearing smart glasses by 2025, about 8 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Software company CyberTimez supplied Cyber Eyez software for Vuzix’s glasses that provide magnification and character recognition capabilities, allowing users to read street signs, newspapers and other printed text, either by magnifying images or translating into audio.

The glasses can connect with cochlear implants via Bluetooth and scan barcodes, bringing up prices in a store. They also can help distinguish between different cash bank notes.

Consumer sales have been slow to catch on after Google Glass, introduced in 2012, raised privacy issues and exposed their limited use in everyday life, Forrester Research said.

The market for veterans and others with impaired vision could be well over $500 million initially, said Dr. David Godbold, national director of the Wounded Warrior Program, a charity that has started offering the glasses to veterans.

Vuzix’s camera- and speaker-equipped glasses, which weigh about 2.5 ounces, won the competition to supply veterans after a six-month trial, beating out Google Glass, Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, and Epson Moverio, said Sean Tibbetts, chief executive and co-founder of CyberTimez.

Wounded Warrior plans to make the $2,300 glasses available through its program and the U.S. Veterans Administration at no charge to veterans, Godbold said. The first Wounded Warrior veteran to receive the glasses was Kevin Garland, a 24-year-old U.S. Army member who lost his hearing and part of his eyesight to an explosion while deployed in Afghanistan, Godbold said. He began using them late last month.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; editing by Grant McCool