TORONTO – Canadians with visual impairments will now have the ability to “see” the world around them thanks to Israeli startup OrCam, which aims to enhance the lives of its visually impaired users through a wearable platform and simple interface known as MyEye.
OrCam, which opened its Canadian headquarters in Toronto in May, was founded in 2010 by Amnon Shashua, a computer science professor at Hebrew University. It is based on computer vision algorithms that he developed with fellow faculty member Shai Shalev-Shwartz and former graduate student Yonatan Wexler.
As Shashua explained in his TEDTalk in New York City in 2013, the idea was to “develop a wearable camera that can clip on to any pair of eyeglasses” and “have the camera figure out what the user is looking at and figure out what the user is interested to know about the scene,” and then to “provide that information instantaneously through an earpiece” to the user of the device.
MyEye responds to a simple intuitive gesture – a point of a user’s finger or the press of a single button. Whether it’s to read, find an item or recognize a product, it responds instantly and audibly speaks to the user to identify what he or she is pointing to.
According to Shashua, the device “scans the visual field and looks for familiar patterns” such as “faces or hand gestures. When the system finds a pointing hand gesture, it tries to match the scene to what it knows. The system knows about thousands of products, of logos and brand names” as well as “buses and traffic lights, layout of text in newspaper, books and documents.”
The MyEye device also can identify faces. Faces that previously stored in the system are identified and announced upon entering the camera’s view.
“With OrCam, we are mobile,” Debbie, a woman with visual disabilities, told an audience at OrCam’s presentation at AIPAC 2014. “We can hold a book in our hands, we can read on the bus, we can turn page to page from front to cover. We can read just like you, with you.”
Upon purchase of a MyEye device, an OrCam certified trainer comes to the user’s home to help set up the device. The company does not sell the device unless a certified trainer is able to conduct a training session with the user.
Rafi Fischer, director of media communications for OrCam, told the CJN the company is “constantly growing” its user-base in Canada and that it’s currently available at select locations across the country.
Fischer recalled the story of one particular user named Karyn Liard, a blind mother of three living in Stouffville, Ont., who received her funding for the device through a GoFundMe campaign. She “started getting emotional when describing her experience” with it, he said. She “uses it to read her children stories before they go to bed, something she was never able to do before this point.”
In addition to Canada, the MyEye device is currently available at select locations across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.