New headsets bring Wimbledon to life for visually impaired fans | Blindness and visual impairment

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Rosie Pybus has been to Wimbledon several times and watched her first tennis match this year, thanks to a headset for visually impaired people. She told of the “exhilarating” moment she tested the innovative device, which allows users to watch live action from the stands.

Visually impaired tennis fans at SW19 have been trialling the headsets, which capture images with a camera and project them into a person’s sight line. Users can adjust the images with a remote control.

The headsets, developed by GiveVision and powered by Vodafone 5G, can also stream live footage from local TV cameras and enhance it to suit a user’s specific sight profile.

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Speaking of the moment she first tried the headset at Centre Court as Andy Murray beat his fellow Briton Ryan Peniston, Pybus said: “It was the first time I have had that level of vision in life.”

Pybus, 31, who works for the Royal National Institute of Blind People and plays visually impaired tennis, said: “It was just incredible. I’ve been to Wimbledon four or five times; I have never been able to watch the tennis. It has always been the case of come with a friend who can see.

“[Now] I can people watch. I was just testing the tech and I said: ‘I can see holes in the net.’ It was just really exhilarating. When I come to tennis from now on, or any sporting events where these headsets are available, I won’t necessarily have to think about bringing a friend who is sighted. I could be the eyes.”

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Ivan Rodriguez Deb, 17, who is No 1 in the men’s singles ranking in visually impaired tennis, said he was overcome with emotion as he tried the headset during Murray’s match.

“It was just incredible. It was almost like a dream putting on that headset and just taking in all the details that I’ve missed from all this time having watched tennis,” he said. “It just opened up a whole new world of watching tennis with the grasp of all those details. I was actually just so overwhelmed being able to experience that for the first time.”

GiveVision has also been working in football with Crystal Palace and hopes that the technology can be rolled out across more venues.

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Wimbledon announced last month that it was introducing AI-powered commentary and captions in online highlights videos. But the former British No 1 and BBC pundit Annabel Croft described AI commentary as an “insult” to her profession.

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On Wednesday, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a race against the robot for your job … Whoever is taking the decision to put a robot on to commentary, and of course into the wider context of all jobs in life, this is going to kill humanity. I mean, what is going on?

“I think it’s an insult to my profession that you can put a robot into that place. Already, somebody has had that job taken away from them. That would have been somebody who would have been voicing over those clips of the highlights, who would have had a bit more emotion, feeling in it, some expertise. A robot has no feelings but that’s probably going to be built in next.

“There’s people living a world where everything is just quick fixes, quick soundbites – everything is just speed. Where are we going in life? This is appalling. I feel like we all need to all throw our phones in the river and stop our brains being overtaken by AI.”

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