In all artistic sectors, innovative projects are preparing to change our cultural landscape. Second part of our summer series: the surtitle on connected glasses developed by the company Panthea to make accessible the live show (2/3).

“The primary purpose of our connected glasses is to allow deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences to attend lyrical shows or plays, says Carl de Poncins, Panthea’s president and co-founder. This ambitious project was born following a discussion with an Australian roommate, eager to discover French culture. Carl de Poncins struggles to integrate his friend, however of goodwill, into the local cultural life, the outings to the theatre requiring a fairly high level of French. The idea of providing subtitles for shows, as we do for films and series, then makes its way. It is gradually becoming clearer.

It was realized that this difficulty in accessing certain cultural proposals was not limited to foreign tourists but also concerned people with disabilities, especially hearing impairments,” stresses Carl de Poncins. The issue is complex because the needs of a person with a hearing disability vary depending on the specific nature of the disability. Our goal, therefore, was to include both people who are deaf by birth, whose mother tongue is FSL, and people who, with age, begin to hear less well, which is not felt much in their daily interactions but makes their experiences in a concert hall singularly difficult,” adds the entrepreneur.

A totally immersive experience thanks to the display in the field of vision

A flexible solution

To meet this ambition, the Panthea team is looking to design a tool that is flexible enough to cover the needs of as many people as possible. “It’s both the ability to have subtitles in multiple languages and having additional options, such as audiodescription or sign language, that we’re working on this year,” says Poncins. The idea of connected glasses has gradually become established because they have the advantage of not disturbing the room neighbors and offering a totally immersive experience thanks to the display in the field of vision. The first winner of the “Innovative Digital Services” call for proposals in 2014, the team of entrepreneurs, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, developed a first version of this tool in 2015.

The glasses are tested, then developed, in several rooms and several shows, with excellent feedback. However, the Panthea team is not stopping in such a good way, and is once again responding to the call for “innovative digital services” projects in 2020, with the aim of fleshing out its proposal by adding LSF and audiodescription to the surtitle. Developing the device only for the deaf who speak the LSF would have been unthinkable from an economic point of view: the target audience would have been too small for the cost of glasses to be profitable. Adding the LSF to an already existing device is, however, much more attractive. “This is a real toolkit for theatres looking to implement an accessibility policy,” says Poncins. “ The LSF and closed captioning are two complementary offers. Deaf people must, if they wish, have access to their mother tongue,” he said.

Understand 90% of the show instead of the usual 30%

A device that gets forgotten

But how does the use of augmented reality glasses actually work? When they arrive in theatre, an employee gives the equipment to the people concerned, explaining how to use it. Once in the room, the user puts on the glasses and a menu appears in overprint, giving him the possibility to choose between subtitles, LSF and audiodescription. If audiodescription is desired, headphones are provided with the glasses. For the LSF, the glasses allow you to visualize the performer in 3D. The latter function as a transparent screen that overlaps with the real», sums up Carl de Poncins. This solution has several advantages over the intervention of an interpreter who would «sign» on stage: the video recording is reusable on all representations, which limits the costs, and the LSF window naturally follows the gaze. The subtitles work on the same principle, and can be completely adjusted to the needs of the user: it is possible to adjust their color, their location and their size.

Testing of the LSF option, which was scheduled for March, has been delayed until the end of 2021 due to the health crisis. They will take place in partnership with the Scène nationale «la Rose des Vents» in Villeneuve d'Asq and the Théâtre Le Ranelagh in Paris. The Panthea team hopes that the field experiment will produce results as encouraging as those obtained with closed captioning. A hearing impaired and visually impaired person told them that it was ideal for her because she was able to enlarge the text and increase the brightness. Another theatre fan, who is also hard of hearing, said that with this help, he was able to understand 90% of the show instead of the usual 30%. “This type of feedback is a great source of motivation for us, there is a strong need for accessibility,” says Carl de Poncins. What is difficult is that sometimes the desire for a show doesn’t even exist anymore,” he adds. During Panthea’s demonstrations, several people told the team that they had scratched the theatre from their hobbies, tired of going there full of hope and finally not understanding anything. The provision of this equipment would open up a whole field of cultural life, hitherto inaccessible. A great opportunity for cultural places to reinvent their relationship with the public after the health crisis, with a particularly innovative accessibility proposal.

Innovative Digital Services call for proposals

Panthea’s «Access glass» project was selected and supported by the Ministry of Culture as part of the Innovative Digital Services (SNI) call for projects. This system, launched in 2012 and renovated in 2016, is dedicated to financing and supporting innovative digital solutions. Its objective? Support the development of innovative digital solutions and their experimentation within one or more cultural actors.

The SNI call for projects is addressed to companies, associations or research laboratories. It specifically targets solutions based on technologies that are not yet widespread in the field of culture or that could help create new digital uses for cultural actors. The candidate project can respond as well to the problems encountered by the public as to those of cultural professionals.

In 2020, 16 projects were selected from the 118 applications received, including “Access Glass”.