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Israel’s OrCam gets soccer star Lionel Messi to be face of startup to help blind

Jerusalem maker of AI-based wearable devices to help visually impaired people says Messi team-up will increase awareness of plight faced by blind people

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Soccer legend Lionel Messi has agreed to be the face of the company, and lead a push to improve accessibility through OrCam’s devices (Courtesy)
Soccer legend Lionel Messi has agreed to be the face of the company, and lead a push to improve accessibility through OrCam’s devices (Courtesy)

OrCam Technologies, a Jerusalem-based maker of artificial intelligence-based wearable devices to help the blind and visually impaired read texts via audio feedback, said Wednesday that soccer legend Lionel Messi has agreed to be the face of the company.

OrCam said the “partnership collaboration” with Messi is meant to increase awareness of the challenges faced by the blind and visually impaired community globally.

Messi is an Argentina-born football star who has spent his professional career with Barcelona, for which has won a club-record 33 trophies. He was ranked the world’s highest-paid athlete by Forbes in 2019. The 33-year-old requested a transfer from the club in August, soon after the club’s 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. However, he is reportedly staying on until the end of his contract in 2021, due to his $825 million release clause.

As part of the joint project, OrCam will arrange face-to-face meetings for visually impaired people from around the world with the soccer superstar, with Messi giving them OrCam’s MyEye device as a gift.

The device is a wireless, lightweight and compact computer, the size of a finger, that fits onto a pair of glasses. The AI-driven technology can discreetly read printed and digital text from any surface out loud to the device wearer. Newspapers, books, computer and smartphone screens, restaurant menus, labels on supermarket products, and street signs become accessible, OrCam said. Additional features offer also instant face recognition and identification of consumer products, colors and money notes, and there is a Smart Reading feature, launched in the US in July, that gives users the ability to use voice commands.

Every year, Messi will give the OrCam MyEye “to people with inspiring stories who are blind or visually impaired, some of whom he will personally meet in Barcelona,” OrCam said in a statement. These individuals will each become members of the “OrCam Dream Team,” led by Messi, the statement said.

The first of these meetings took place in Barcelona, Spain, in early February, before the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, when visually challenged children and adults were fitted with the device, which then recognized and told them that the person in front of them was Messi. The meeting with the soccer star  — and the gifting of the OrCam device — came as a complete surprise to them during the “meet and greet” event.

OrCam says the ‘partnership collaboration’ with Messi is meant to increase awareness of the challenges faced by the blind and visually impaired community globally (Courtesy)

“The emotion was incredible,” Messi said after the meeting, according to the statement. “Meeting with this amazing group of people from around the world was truly a magical and inspiring moment. Witnessing each of the members of the ‘Dream Team’ trying out the OrCam MyEye features, it was clear that this would be a life-changing device for each of them. I am proud to be an OrCam Ambassador to truly make a difference for so many.”

Some 300 million people worldwide suffer from blindness or varying degrees of visual impairment.

The participants in the project will be from a variety of countries around the world and are blind or have varying degrees of visual impairment.

“This is a particularly exciting point in time for me and for OrCam. The story of OrCam’s founding is, first and foremost, a story of people – people who struggle with real problems and challenges in their lives. Our goal is to use sophisticated ‘AI-as-a-companion’ technology that helps people with disabilities in real time, in the real world,” said Amnon Shashua, the co-founder and co-CEO of OrCam.

“In the performance of daily activities, the device offers independence, providing users with critical support to better integrate into society, especially within employment and educational settings. This technology supports users in amplifying their inherent potential,” Shashua added. “We are convinced that this collaboration with Messi – who is the embodiment of maximizing potential, and an individual who is admired worldwide – will allow us to reach millions of people in need.”

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