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OrCam rolls out voice-activated ‘smart reading’ tech for visually impaired

Written by NoCamels Published on   4 mins read

OrCam MyEye snaps onto the wearer’s eyeglass frames and looks like it is part of the eyewear.

When developers of the OrCam MyEye, a wearable artificial vision device that enables visually impaired people to understand text and identify objects through audio feedback, asked users about how the company could improve the assistive technology, they responded that voice-activation and an even more discreet size would be helpful.

At the end of July, the Jerusalem-based OrCam Technologies announced the US release of a new, voice-activated, interactive Smart Reading feature. It gives users who are blind, visually impaired, or have reading challenges like dyslexia the ability to use voice commands for a clearer reading experience.

The Smart Reading feature integrates into the wearable OrCam MyEye device and the handheld OrCam Read gadget.

“Our users wanted the device to be wireless and more discreet, so we packed all the tech into the tiny second generation OrCam MyEye, which is the size of a finger, lightweight, and magnetically connects to any pair of eyeglass frames,” Yonatan Wexler, EVP of R&D at OrCam Technologies, tells NoCamels.

OrCam MyEye snaps onto the wearer’s eyeglass frames and weighs just 22.5 grams, or 0.8 ounces. It looks like a part of the frames.

OrCam MyEye 2. Courtesy of OrCam.

The little device also packs award-winning technologies that help visually impaired users read printed text and digital screens out loud, recognize faces, and identify products, bar codes, banknotes, and colors.

And now with the new Smart Reading feature, it also acts as a “voice-activated assistant.”

Smart reading made easier

“Our newest assistive technology breakthrough answers the user desire for personalization and efficiency. Instead of the device reading an entire page to find the information the user wants, they can deploy the Smart Reading feature. OrCam MyEye comprehends the user’s voice commands, retrieves the relevant information, and reads the text of interest out loud—all within seconds,” Wexler tells NoCamels.

So, if there’s a poster with a lot of text information as well as a phone number or email address at the bottom, “they can direct OrCam MyEye to read only phone numbers, dates, or start from a specific word,” explains Wexler.

Other examples of how the Smart Reading feature can be used include giving the MyEye device voice commands, such as, “Read [newspaper] headlines,” “Start from vegetarian [menu items],” or “Read amounts [of a bill].”

OrCam develops assistive technologies such as the MyEye 2, which reads out text to users and has other features. Courtesy of OrCam.

Smart Reading combines computer vision and natural language understanding (NLU) technologies.

“After devoting ten years of R&D efforts to developing our pioneering OrCam MyEye device, we are proud to now offer the interactive Smart Reading feature, which takes AI-enabled assistive reading to an entirely new level of accessibility for people with visual impairments and those with reading challenges,” Amnon Shashua, OrCam Technologies co-founder and co-CEO, said in a press statement. Shashua is also a co-founder with Ziv Aviram of Mobileye, the collision avoidance system leader and autonomous driving innovator. Intel acquired Mobileye in 2017.

“We work tirelessly to create sustainable and long-lasting solutions that set the bar on the level of independence artificial vision technology can provide for people whose access to the world may be restricted, opening up new opportunities and enhancing their quality of life,” said Shashua.

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Award-winning tech

The Israeli developers say MyEye is the only wearable assistive technology for vision impairment that can be activated by an intuitive pointing gesture. The OrCam Read, first introduced to the public at CES 2020, is also a unique handheld device.

The reviews are good. The American Foundation for the Blind has a section on its website dedicated to using technology for reading. There are repeated favorable reviews of OrCam products—from 2015 when the products first became commercially available to the present—as go-to solutions for people with visual impairments and blindness.

During the COVID-19 crisis, senior citizens the world over found themselves locked in their homes and locked out of community group meetings where they could seek help with reading or other sighted activities. In Australia, tech critic Trevor Long said OrCam’s products—handheld devices and wearables—could help keep the visually impaired elderly community up to date on world events. He calls both the OrCam MyEye and OrCam Read “unbelievable” technology that can improve the daily lives of elderly who are blind or visually impaired.

And this is just the latest headline for the Israeli assistive technology. The company wins innovation awards too.

In 2019, TIME magazine chose the OrCam MyEye 2 as one of its 100 best inventions of that year. OrCam was selected for helping the blind and visually impaired increase their independence and improve their quality of life.

This game-changer for the blind, dyslexics, and people with visual impairment also appears in the NoCamels list of 10 years of world-changing Israeli innovation.

This article first appeared in NoCamels, which covers innovations from Israel for a global audience.


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