OrCam helping the blindAn Israeli start-up company innovates’ a device that makes reading and other daily activities significantly easier for the blind.

An Israeli start-up company called OrCam has invented a device to make daily activities which are difficult for the blind and visually impaired significantly easier. According to the company website, “OrCam harnesses the power of artificial vision to compensate for lost visual abilities. OrCam is a sensor that sees what is in front of you, understands what information you seek and provides it to you through a bone-conduction earpiece. OrCam understands what you want on its own, whether it’s to read, find an item, catch a bus or cross the road. Faces and places are recognized continuously. OrCam will tell you when it sees a face or a place it recognizes, without you having to do anything.”

OrCam helping the blind seeUntil fairly recently, the visually impaired and the blind have only been able to read non-Braille writings via cumbersome devices that recognize text in limited environments or more recently, through applications on smart phones with limited abilities. OrCam is significantly more user friendly than these earlier methods, for it easily attaches itself onto ones glasses and reads aloud what is in front of you.

OrCam was founded several years ago by Amnon Shashua, a computer science professor at Hebrew University, the New York Times reported. It is based on computer vision algorithms that he has pioneered with another faculty member, Shai Shalev-Shwartz, and one of his former graduate students, Yonatan Wexler. “What is remarkable is that the device learns from the user to recognize a new product,” said Tomaso Poggio, a computer scientist at M.I.T, told the New York Times. “This is more complex than it appears, and, as an expert, I find it really impressive.”

Presently, the OrCam device costs around $2,500 and can be purchased on the company’s website. OrCam also recognizes English language text. While the system is usable by the blind, OrCam plans to start out by marketing it mainly to visually impaired individuals whose eye-sight cannot be corrected by glasses. In the United States, 21.2 million people over the age of 18 have some kind of visual impairment, according to the 2011 National Health Survey by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. OrCam said that worldwide there were 342 million adults with significant visual impairment, and that 52 million of them are middle class.

Researchers at Israel’s Technion are also working to help the blind see using a bionic implant.

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By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United with Israel