Multilingual augmented reality glasses thrill audiences at Avignon Festival tryout.

The world’s first auto-translating opera glasses have been trialled at this year’s Avignon Festival and the initial verdict amongst spectators has declared them a palpable hit.

Carl de Poncins, head of a young startup surtitles company called Theatre in Paris, and business technology company Atos­ have unveiled the world’s first multilingual augmented reality glasses during performances of King Lear from July 4 to July 13 at the Palais de Papes. The high-tech glasses allowed individual audience members to choose surtitles in their native language (French, English and Mandarin) in order to understand the play. Flawlessly integrated with the show, the glasses are designed to display the surtitles to each audient at a pace that matches the performance and preserves the original meaning of the dialogue or text on stage.

Audiences trialing the new glasses

“The Festival has always been a meeting point for creation, innovation and experimentation,” Paul Rodin, Managing Director of the Avignon Festival told Nasdaq. “These glasses not only demonstrate technological prowess, but are an accessibility tool, providing a simple way for cultures to be spread and making the ‘other’ accessible to very different publics. In terms of our overall strategy, it is a perfect marriage of new technologies and theatre as old as time; it represents a good exploitation of the complementary nature of these two worlds, which we all need.”

As trialed at the prestigious open-air theatre (Cour d’Honneur) in France, the glasses revolutionised audiences’ usual theatre experiences whilst promoting French culture, production and creativity. Audiences were able to customise their individual glasses, with various choices of colour, positioning and language and also access surtitles, regardless of seating position. Designed by Atos and manufactured by French start-up company, Optinvent, the glasses will undergo further audience testing at future festival productions.

“Our ambition, since 2014, is to open the French theatre doors to as many people as possible, by allowing non-French speaking societies to attend French plays,” said Carl de Poncins, President of Theatre of Paris. “Our dedicated English surtitling and reception services have already gained success in several Parisian theatres. The augmented-reality solution we unveiled, with Atos at the Avignon Festival, allows us to complement our existing offer with a revolutionary new experience for our international audiences.”

If future audiences applaud this new technology in the same way as King Lear audiences, the augmented reality glasses will be rolled out in more languages to a significantly larger audience across French theatrical production companies in 2016. Optinvent also intends to add two new developments: personal customisation for people with hearing difficulties and additional content, such as superimposed 3D Animation, the appearance of rain and other dramatic effects. 

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