Some of the best ideas come from conversations and 3am in the morning. That’s how Tony Tse came up with the idea of using an Augmented Reality headset to project subtitles at the movies. Tony, who is hearing impaired, was finding it frustrating that cinemas in New Zealand rarely use the subtitle data that comes with most movies, which limits what he can watch.
Tony, who has recently defended his PhD at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute – together with ABI research fellow Marco Schneider – launched a spin-out company to commercialise their AR subtitles idea. They named the company Vivify.
“I always find the initial problem-solving stage the most interesting in any problems,” says Tony, whose PhD focused on investigating an underwater hearing aid for divers inspired by the mechanism of fish hearing.
“What are the theory and engineering tools that can be used for a given problem? And of course, once the relevant knowledge has been identified, the process of applying them and arriving at a solution is very rewarding.”
“I have been hearing impaired since I was a child and have always worn hearing aids. To me, they are a technological marvel. It would not be possible for me to be where I am now had I not been able to hear in class or make friends with people around me. That got me interested in bio-engineering, in particular hearing related research.”
The AR subtitle idea won them the $1,000 Velocity Challenge at the University of Auckland, which Tony and Marco used to develop the first prototype headset. The MedTech CoRE has supported Tony and Marco from the beginning – both took part in a Commercialisation module of the Doctoral Training Programme in 2017, which encouraged them to launch Vivify later that same year. They also obtained a pre-seed investment from Uniservices. After many revisions, they have recently finished successfully trialing the latest version at Auckland’s Event Cinemas, to very good reception.
“Participants love the idea of what we doing and Event has been very receptive and helpful. We are improving on the service now with initial feedback and jumping through some business hurdles. We are hoping to release it for general use soon!”
The current version is connected to an iPhone that sits inside the headset, which makes them a bit bulky and heavy. Tony says their plan is to eventually build headsets from scratch, make them more aesthetically pleasing and lighter.
Tony has also been nominated for the Young New Zealander of the Year Award, and the finalists will be announced soon – so keep an eye out!