The OrCam assistive technology device is now available through RNIB Shop. It is able to turn any text into speech with a click of a button and uses artificial intelligence to recognise people’s faces.
Since being available to buy in the UK from the end of 2015, OrCam is currently being used by over 1,000 blind and partially sighted people worldwide including in the US, UK, Switzerland and Australia. Originally developed by Israeli computer science professor Amnon Shashua in 2010, it has helped blind and partially sighted people to live more confident and independent lives.
The device uses a tiny camera that fits onto one arm of a normal pair of glasses. The back of the camera is positioned toward the ear (without blocking it) and a computerised voice “speaks” to the user about what the camera can “see”. When the camera is directed at a page in a book, the camera “reads” the text.
The discreet OrCam camera and mini speaker is connected to a processing unit that fits in the user’s pocket, and uses breakthrough artificial intelligence technology to convert visual information into spoken word.
The processing unit has just three buttons: a power button, volume adjuster to suit the individual’s level of hearing and a trigger button to activate the text-to-voice reader.
There are two different types of OrCam devices - the OrCam MyReader, which allows the users to read any text, on any surface, including newspapers, books, computer screens, restaurant menus, labels on supermarket products and street signs. And the OrCam MyEye which includes the MyReader's functionality as well having the ability to recognise and announce stored faces of individuals. MyEye can also identify consumer products and credit cards previously entered by the user, and even bank notes.
OrCam's technology was pioneered by specialists in the computer vision and machine learning fields. Dr. Yonatan Wexler, OrCam Executive Vice President of Research and Development, said: "OrCam's intense focus on efficient algorithms resulted in a miniature wearable [device] that is self-contained and performs complex tasks that were previously only possible on very large and powerful computers.
“Until now, no one had succeeded in packing this much functionality into such a small device. By processing the information locally, OrCam receives immediate feedback and there is no issue of privacy because the device speaks what it sees, but does not store the data.”
Allan Mabert from Essex was diagnosed with Stargardt disease at birth. He experienced deterioration in his vision to the point where now he can only perceive light.
In his working career as London’s first blind magistrate, Allan relied on equipment such as a flatbed scanner and the use of braille, which was not practical in court. In recent months, Allan has started using OrCam MyReader and the result has dramatically improved his access to better mobility, psychological outlook, use of communications and overall independence.
OrCam now plays a vital part in Allan's daily life. "OrCam is an assistive device whose support is very convenient, discreet and simple to operate," explained Allan. "It relaxes you, makes you feel safer. You experience less tension. OrCam gives information, leading to self-reliance."
Michael Crossland, Specialist Optometrist at Moorfields Eye Hospital and Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, notes the effectiveness and advantageous nature of OrCam's artificial vision technology, "I think that the OrCam MyEye device is a very exciting development in low vision rehabilitation for people with blindness and severe visual impairment.
"It is great to have a product which enables text-to-speech reading in a real world environment. I have also found it to be beneficial for people who have visual field loss, who may be able to see small letters but do not have a sufficiently wide visual field to read fluently."