Mobileye sale puts spotlight on founders’ other startup

Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram also behind OrCam, which develops devices to assist the blind and visually impaired

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

An OrCam device scans text and plays it back as speech for the visually impaired. (screen capture: Youtube/OrcamTechnologies)
An OrCam device scans text and plays it back as speech for the visually impaired. (screen capture: Youtube/OrcamTechnologies)

The Intel Corp. deal to acquire Israel’s Mobileye for a whopping $15 billion will no doubt put the spotlight on another Israeli startup by the founders of the self-driving tech company. And that firm is OrCam Technologies Ltd., which has developed devices to assist the blind and visually impaired.

“We have seen more incoming calls into our call centers in the last day or so,” said Rafi Fischer, the director of media communications at OrCam. “There is huge interest in OrCam, given we share the same two co-founders as Mobileye.”

Fischer was referring to Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram.

Shashua is the chief technology officer and chairman of OrCam, which, like Mobileye, develops products based on advanced computerized visual interpretation capabilities, with Aviram as the company’s president and chief executive officer. Each spend part of their time away from Mobileye developing the startup.

The Jerusalem-based startup, founded in 2010, has developed two devices that are being sold globally, including in the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Israel and France, said Fischer. Very soon the product will be available also in Italy and Spain and other European countries. The US was the first country in which the device was made available to consumers in 2015.

“We are already selling our product to thousands of people around the world, and we believe that in 2017 we will greatly increase sales,” Fischer said.

The OrCam MyEye product helps the visually impaired navigate the world with a low-cost device and without invasive procedures. Its software uses a high-resolution video camera and smart algorithms that analyze what the camera is seeing, and reads back the information to a user in real time.

The product is basically a little camera with a mount attached to a computing device — the size of a smartphone that fits in a pocket — and a personal speaker. When the OrCam camera is attached to the frame of a pair of glasses, and the users point to a text or surface, the speaker transforms the image into words and reads them to the users, enabling them to “read” newspapers, restaurant menus, or books. The device can also be programmed to recognizes faces and objects.

The database recognizes words and text from any surface and remembers faces too.

The OrCam MyReader product focuses on reading only and is good for people who can see but have trouble reading, said Fischer, like people with dyslexia or who have suffered a stroke.

OrCam's product can recognize text from any surface (Courtesy)
OrCam’s product can recognize text from any surface (Courtesy)

The MyReader costs $2,500 while the MyEye costs $3,500. In the US some states fully fund the devices for qualified residents, Fischer said. Globally the products are sold via optical stores, distributors, vision centers and optometrists. The languages the software supports are English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Hebrew. In coming months Portuguese, Norwegian and other European languages will be added as well as Russian and Arabic and Asian languages in the longer term, Fischer said.

The company is also working on a new product called OrCam MyMe, which will serve as a personal assistant to any user, recognizing faces and whispering their names into the ears of forgetful executives or keeping track of what a person eats, Fischer said.

OrCam employs 125 people in Jerusalem. According to The Marker website, the startup has raised $22 million thus far, including a $6 million investment from the investment arm of Intel (Intel Capital). Other investors include Aviv Ventures and the Barkat brothers’ BRM Group.

The founders are planning an IPO for the company, Fischer said, though there is no firm timeline yet. Perhaps in 2018, he said. Mobileye listed shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014, with the IPO still the largest VC-backed auto-tech exit to date.

Shashua and Aviram, who respectively held stakes of 7.6 percent and 6.9% in Mobileye, will share just under $1 billion from the sale, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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