A path-breaking gadget transforms life for the visually challenged
Wireless and offline
The device can read text, recognise faces, products and does a lot more. Orcam works wirelessly and, most importantly, offline. It’s lightweight, at 22.5 grams, and is as big as a human finger, and you can attach it to, say, the spectacles. It has a 13 MP camera and a 320 mAh battery. The device, which can be mounted magnetically on the specs frame, can read almost all forms of text — newspapers and books, menu cards, sign boards, product labels and even computer or phone screens. All you have to do is point the device at the source and gently tap it. It can even tell users whether they are holding a page upside down or if the lighting conditions are poor. The device can remember over a 100 human faces. We recently visited Orcam’s office in Jerusalem and tested Orcam Eye 2. Orcam MyEye2 is currently priced at $4,500 (₹3.1 lakh), which is quite heavy for a retail consumer, but the Orcam team says the price will drop as the market expands and the current price tag is not so high considering the market price for similar assistive devices. Some of the features are simply amazing even from the point of view of people with normal eyesight. The device can recognise faces in real time and remember them for future use. Orcam can identify products just by scanning the barcode or identifying the label. According to Orcam executives, over one million products are added to MyEye’s memory and many more, from various geographies, are being added to the list.
The device works well with gestures. Based on where the user points their finger at, the device determines what to read and how. This may be a tad difficult for users with fully impaired vision to use, but anecdotal evidence suggest that users master this skill a few days after using the device. Anyway, Orcam MyEye has an automatic mode where the device reads faces and announces them to the user as and when they come in the field of vision. The MyEye can even tell users the time when they mimic the wrist action for checking the time on a wrist watch.
What makes the Orcam MyEye interesting is the fact that it works without the assistance of a smartphone or even the internet, making it very convenient to carry around and use. The device supports 18 languages and works in more than 25 countries. As of now, no Indian language is available on Orcam, and the executives cite the linguistic differences as the greatest challenge they face and they expect English to work well in this region.
Benefitting millions potentially
Orcam’s team believes that the assistive technology could benefit more than one billion people in the world today. Orcam can immediately help the nearly 350 million people with visual challenges, which is more than 4.5 per cent of the global population.
The device can also benefit people who are dyslexic. Orcam estimates that would account for about 5 per cent of the global population. The Orcam team is adding more innovative features to the device to make it more user-friendly. For one, they are integrating a voice assistant in sync with a gesture reading system so users can just talk to the MyEye like they do to another human being.
A few other companies are also experimenting with similar ideas. Canadian company eSight, which introduced a vision assistance headset in 2017, and Wayfindr, an arm of London’s Royal Society for Blind Children, are some of them. OrCam has tied up with a clutch of companies and charities to promote the MyEye and is looking forward to partnering with enterprises in countries such as India. Co-founded in 2010 by computer scientist Amnon Shashua and entrepreneur Ziv Aviram, Orcam was bought by Intel in August 2017 for $15.3 billion.
Shashua and Aviram are also the founders of Mobileye, which is behind an AI-powered device that helps avoid vehicle collisions and assists in autonomous driving. Orcam’s team would like to attribute the success of the product to the Israeli startup ecosystem that promotes innovative products and technologies.
(The writer was in Israel at the invitation of Jerusalem Press Club)