Hillel's Tech Corner: Orcam - a fresh set of eyes

OrCam improves the lives of individuals who are blind, partially sighted, have reading difficulties, or experience reading fatigue by harnessing the power of artificial vision.

By
May 17, 2019 11:30
4 minute read.
The world’s most advanced wearable AI-driven artificial vision innovator, Orcam

The world’s most advanced wearable AI-driven artificial vision innovator, Orcam. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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When it comes to business and impact, there is usually a mutually exclusive relationship. In other words, generally, as an entrepreneur you have to choose between “doing good” and “doing well”. OrCam, a company founded by the same founders as Israel’s tech sweetheart, Mobileye, disproves that theory. This company has done well, very well, by doing good.

If you think about it, Prof. Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram had one goal in mind when starting Mobileye, a company later acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion. Their goal was to give our cars the ability to see their surroundings and thereby increase our safety on the roads. These two visionaries are clearly in the business of giving vision to those who don’t have it.

OrCam is the world’s most advanced wearable AI-driven artificial vision innovator. Those are big words. Allow me to simplify them. OrCam improves the lives of individuals who are blind, partially sighted, have reading difficulties, or experience reading fatigue by harnessing the power of artificial vision using seriously cutting edge technology.

A few years ago, I experienced the OrCam device for the first time, and that was not even the latest device, but an earlier version of the company’s vision. For the first time in a long time, I genuinely felt like I was in the future.

There are several moments in our lives in which we experience something new that is facilitated by technology and that moment feels like magic. For example, the first time you turned on an iPhone, or perhaps the first time you experienced Uber and had your own personal chauffeur. Trying OrCam’s device for the first time most definitely makes that list.

I put on a regular pair of glasses with the device attached, hold up a newspaper, point at a section I want to read and this magical device reads that section to me in my ear immediately and accurately.

Called OrCam MyEye, it is the size of a finger and has already positively impacted the quality of life of tens of thousands of users, in 25 languages and 48 countries. Mind you, this company is founded, based, and being built in Jerusalem.

OrCam MyEye’s artificial vision technology instantly (and discreetly, which is very important in social settings) reads printed and digital text aloud: newspapers, books, restaurant menus, signs, product labels, and computer and smartphone screens. Seamless facial recognition improves social situations by letting the user know who that person is walking toward them or sitting in front of them. Again, discreetly. Identification of consumer products, banknotes, and colors provides increased independence.

There is another very important point to mention. OrCam MyEye operates completely offline, without requiring an internet connection – resulting in real-time audio communication of vital visual information while ensuring data privacy.


Clinical studies (JAMA Ophthalmology; Wills Eye Hospital) have scientifically determined what OrCam’s tens of thousands of users throughout the world continuously experience on a daily basis – empowerment to study, work and fully function throughout their daily activities.

The company also develops other products using their breakthrough technology. Whereas OrCam MyEye addresses the needs of the visually impaired, the company also developed another product called OrCam MyReader, which is specifically suited to the needs of the reading impaired and dyslexic markets, and those who suffer from reading fatigue.

So far you have heard about the “doing good” part of OrCam, and how this company is positively impacting the lives of so many around the globe. How about the “doing well” part of the story?

In February 2018, OrCam Technologies completed an investment funding round that valued the company at $1 billion.

The $30.4m. funding round was led by the Tel Aviv-based institutional investors Clal Insurance Enterprises Holdings Ltd. and Meitav Dash Provident Funds and Pension Ltd. The majority of existing investors in OrCam opted to participate in the latest investment funding round as well as in preceding rounds. Intel Capital previously invested $6m. in OrCam.

The total amount OrCam has raised from investors to date is a whopping $130.4m. Turns out it is expensive to change the world.

Most recently, OrCam was in the news when the company made one of the most important democratic rights accessible to blind and visually impaired people – the right to vote independently. Israel’s April 9 general election marked the first time in the world where such a pilot took place, so that blind and visually impaired people were able to vote on their own – without an escort. In addition to the sense of independence, which is essential for people who are blind and visually impaired, the use of OrCam devices guaranteed another fundamental democratic principle, which is the secrecy of the ballot.

OrCam is continuing to expand its research and development, aiming to target new markets. In parallel to the continued development of OrCam MyEye, the company has its sights set on reaching mainstream consumers with its breakthrough artificial vision technology.

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