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The OrCam Device: Giving Back Functionality

Woman wearing the orcamHere, at Eye on the Cure, we’ve recently written quite a bit about retinal prosthetic devices, or “bionic retinas,” whether FDA-approved or works-in-progress. But there’s another new device for the visually impaired, a form of assistive technology, that’s neither disease-specific nor requires an implant. And it’s already on the market, at a relatively low price. It’s called OrCam.

The subject of posts at Bloomberg.com and the New York Times, OrCam is the brainchild of Amnon Shashua, a computer-science professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who founded an Israel-based company three years ago to bring his technology to fruition. And impressive, it is. The device is comprised of a mini camera and bone-conduction earpiece, which are strapped to the user’s eyeglasses. With help from a smartphone-sized computer, it recognizes and identifies objects, signage and writing.

An excellent video, on OrCam’s website, demonstrates its many daily uses:

In early June, when the device first went on sale, for $2,500, “we had our first 100 sell within 48 hours,” recounts Erez Na’aman, vice president of engineering and business development at OrCam. So the company manufactured another 500, “but they’re going very quickly,” he says. Plans to ramp up production are underway, so that supply will expand in 2014.

I chatted on the phone with Erez last week, when he was kind enough to answer several questions about the device:

So there are some objects pre-programmed into OrCam, whereas others are not?

It recognizes some objects automatically, like buses and traffic lights, as well as hundreds of specific objects, like soda cans or cereal boxes. But many objects are different from user to user, such as your credit card. So the user can teach it to recognize, for instance, places you regularly visit, like a grocery store, as well as faces and personal objects. If it’s one of these things, you wave your hand in front of it, then say what the object is, and it will recognize it in the future.

For reading signs and newspapers, or seeing a traffic light, how far away can you be?

The distance OrCam can see depends on size. Large text, on a billboard sign, can be seen from dozens of meters away. And with a place, like a store or restaurant, it’s easier, because it’s an entire picture. If you’re reading a newspaper, it can see from 30 to 40 centimeters away.

How does OrCam differ from other devices?

Until now, those devices could perform specific tasks, like reading from a flat document or magnifying things. Now, for the first time, we have technology people can use in their daily lives—for grocery shopping, crossing a street, reading books and newspapers. And we’ve added things no other device can do—reading from afar, for instance, or recognizing traffic lights.

We wrapped all these together in a very small, intuitive device, which doesn’t depend on the internet or wifi. Everything is on board; it’s self-contained. And it answers, after you point, within a fraction of a second. There is a battery, yes. But you can recharge each night, while you sleep.

It seems to enable people to perform tasks they haven’t been able to in years.

When people ask us what we do, we say, “We can’t give you back your vision, but we do give you back the functionality that was lost.” We’re making things easy again.

That’s why it’s mainly for the visually impaired. You don’t want advice; a lot of it is having it do what you want it to do. Otherwise, it would just talk all the time and annoy you. OrCam lets you decide what you want, when you want it. That’s the same for people who are sighted—you want to know what something is, you look at it. It’s a very simple, intuitive concept.

Where does the name “OrCam” come from, and did you anticipate this kind of reaction so soon?

“Cam” comes from camera, and “or” is “light” in Hebrew. So, “camera light” or “light camera.”

We expected it to be well-received, but we didn’t anticipate how much. Over 1,000 people contacted us within a few weeks, plus hundreds of distributors and media from all over the world. We actually had to change to stronger servers for the website because so many people were finding us online.

We obviously hit a very warm spot in many people’s hearts and addressed a problem that many people need addressed.


36 Responses to 'The OrCam Device: Giving Back Functionality'

  1. Craig Brauckmiller says:

    I think I was in the first 100 orders and I am so excited to receive mine. I’ve been told it will be in September. I think the thing I am most looking forward to with OrCam is not having to depend on people for simple things like reading a menu board at a fast food restaurant or cooking instructions on a microwave meal. While I don’t live in a major city, I am close to Boston, MA and when I do go into the city, the signs are hard for me to read and OrCam promises to help there as well. I’m an IT professional and will be putting this through it’s paces when I get it. I really want to see what it can and cannot do.

    Thank you OrCam!

    • Glynn Ross says:

      Message is for Craig Brauckmiller (and anyone else who has already received their Orcam and is using it):
      My father has macular degeneration is is very keen to try this new device, but would like to hear from someone who is currently using it to see how they like it and if it lives up to the hype and promises on the Orcam web site. If you or anyone else would be so kind as to post an independent review it would be greatly appreciated by my father and many others. Kindest regards. Glynn (glynnaross@gmail.com)

  2. Sharon Stone says:

    I was lucky enough to be in on the batch of 500 to be delivered by the end of the year. I purchased this for my husband who developede optic neuropathy in his second eye in April. He has holes in his vision which has affected his ability to read anything. We are so excited about this device and can’t wait to receive it.

  3. John Kerlin says:

    My wife, for whom I am a caregiver, has dry AMD which has progressed to the point where she can no longer
    drive. Depression has changed her personality because
    she now believes that she will no longer be able to see. I wish to know how to contact someone for advice
    and how to acquire an orcam.

    • EyeOnTheCure says:

      John, thanks for your comment and for telling us a bit about your situation. You and your wife are certainly not alone in this journey. Are you involved the in a Foundation chapter or VisionWalk? We have a few opportunities that may open doors for you and your wife to meet and connect with others affected by AMD and their caregivers.

      As for the Orcam, we would recommend contacting the makers directly for more information, Below I’ve provided a link where you can make contact.

      http://www.orcam.com/order/

  4. Annie Obasih says:

    I am interesting in learning more about how this instrument, or device work. I am suffering from RP and I have difficult seeing close up and on the side when walking .

  5. CHUCK MCMULLEN says:

    THIS DEVICE IS THE BEST THING , AS FAR AS LOW VISION DEVICES I HAVE EVER SEEN –I’M 62 AND EVEN AT MY AGE THIS COULD BE LIFE CHANGING—THANK YOU

  6. aliice padayachee says:

    i would like tom know more about this device as have lost my sight completely on da right eye and have had 2 operation on my left eye. i have problems from dark to light can this.

  7. Vladimir Okhrimets says:

    Hallo!
    I live in Russian Federation and know about your device from FFB site. I’m very intresting to have it for my daugthter with Stargardt disease, right now.
    She is 16 years old and as you know it’s the time when she changes life (from school to high schol for ex.).
    It’s probably lirics for you, so I would like to ask you how I can get it (where can buy it) or, may be order (be registrated for future order)?
    It will be very helpful for all of us…
    Thank you for future aswer.
    Any answer…
    Vladimir

  8. Angela says:

    Its great and all as long as one can hear. Ushers patients it does no good since we are both blind and hearing impaired

  9. Warren Aaronson says:

    Att: Ya’ara:
    Hello Ya’ara…
    I am a bit distressed (and quite blue) because I haven’t gotten a reply from you regarding delivery of the new “baby”. I did receive an invitation from Erez Na’amanto try the device and be filmed in New York, but no confirmation from him.
    Please advise what your latest plan is for delivery of the OrCam since I REALLY NEED TO TAKE A BREATH!
    thanks and regards…Warren Aaronson–owl71@optonline.net

  10. Marysol Velez-Muskus says:

    My father is almost blind and I would like to know how to buy one of this or how to order. My dad has macular, cataracts and glaucoma. Please help!

    • EyeOnTheCure says:

      Marysol, thanks for reaching out to us.

      To learn more about the Orcam, we would recommend you contact the makers directly for more information. Below I’ve provided a link where you can get in touch with them.
      http://www.orcam.com/order/

      We wish you and your family the best during this difficult time.

  11. Catarina says:

    I would like to know if there are people already using this device and their reaction to it, because it looks very appealing but I would like to know more news about it, how it is improving people’s lives. Thank you

  12. José Luis Toral says:

    My son is almost blind by DIABETES type 1 and I would like to know how to buy one of this or how to order. . Please help! Thank you.

  13. hayatt says:

    I have 3 kid that are blind I would like to see how to get get the orcam for my kids if some can help me it would make my day and my life very easy please help

  14. Jihad hawa says:

    Does it help kids with LCA ?

  15. Ana Beatriz says:

    Me gustaria saber si ORCAM me puede servir para mi problema de baja vision por daño en los nervios opticos a causa de una meningitis por Criptococo. Tambien quisiera saber si el dispositvo soporta el idioma español. Muchas gracias, espero su respuesta!

    • Eye on the Cure says:

      Hi Ana,

      Unfortunately, we are unable to provide assistance in Spanish at this time. However, to learn more about the Orcam, we would recommend you contact the makers directly for more information. Below I’ve provided a link where you can get in touch with them.
      http://www.orcam.com/order/

  16. Eszter B. Wilson says:

    My mother has advanced AMD. Will OrCam work for her? Also, when are you planning to come out with different languages? German, French or Hungarian what I’d be most interested at this time
    Kind regards
    Eszter

    • Eye on the Cure says:

      Eszter, thanks for reaching out to us. To learn more about the Orcam, we would recommend you contact the makers directly for more information. Below I’ve provided a link where you can get in touch with them.

      http://www.orcam.com/order/

      Unfortunately, we do not have plans to provide support in those languages at this time.

  17. Melissa Smith says:

    As a new visually impaired person I am so excited about this device! I have always been extremely near sighted but as of last year I lost most of my vision leaving me with not only the loss of a job as a nursing scheduler, but I lost my ability to drive. I am working with vision rehabilitation. I am a mother to a 15 year old son and with no way to afford this myself, at least not in one chunk, I was wondering if there was a program to help people in my situation afford this device. To be able to function as a more independent person is something I dream of. I used to take it for granted, I would never have dreamed of waking up one morning and be in a world I was no longer able to see.

    • Eye on the Cure says:

      Melissa, thanks for reaching out to us and for telling us a bit about your story.

      To learn more about the Orcam, we would recommend you contact the makers directly for more information. Below I’ve provided a link where you can get in touch with them.

      http://www.orcam.com/order/

  18. Herbert Rosenfeld says:

    Where is the OrCam sold?
    Does it require special training?
    I am 92 years old and have advanced macular degeneration.

    • Eye on the Cure says:

      Herbert, thanks for reaching out to us.

      To learn more about the Orcam, we would recommend you contact the makers directly for more information. Below I’ve provided a link where you can get in touch with them.

      http://www.orcam.com/order/

    • John Barron says:

      I was fortunate to get on the 2nd shipment list for the end of this year. I paid the deposit fee of $250 which is 10% of the cost. My brother has RP and needs this desperately. I will try it out first then teach him how to use it.
      You can order it at their website ORCAM.COM

  19. Antonio Francesco d'Alema says:

    I am an italian visually impaired since I was 12 years old. My condition is due to Stargardt desease which progressively deprived me of almost all central eyesight.
    I am really impressed by the video showing the Orcam employee who suffers from coloboma using the device which potentially is going to give back low vision people many functionalities they have lost.
    I would like to know if it does already exist an italian version of the softaware or whatever I should call it, in case it does I’d need to get through to italian assistive technology distributors in order to try the device and to buy it if it hopefully meets my needs.
    Thank you in advance

    • Eye on the Cure says:

      Antonio, thanks for reaching out to us and for telling us a bit about your story.

      To learn more about the Orcam, we would recommend you contact the makers directly for more information. Below I’ve provided a link where you can get in touch with them.

      http://www.orcam.com/order/

  20. John Barron says:

    I was lucky to get on the 2nd shipment list during the summer. They require a 10% deposit or $250.
    The 2nd shipment is scheduled for the end of the year.
    I ordered it for my brother who has RP. I will try it out first then teach him how to use it.
    I think this will be a blessing to anyone with vision problems.
    You can order it at their website ORCAM.COM.
    They apparently only make a limited supply at a time, so I suggest you place an order to get on their next shipment list.

  21. Serrell Redd says:

    How can i invest in this ingenious product. Is there a company and if so what is its NYSE symbol? Serrell :)

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