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OrCam’s new feature helps visually impaired tell reading device what to focus on

The Smart Reading capability, released last month in the US, lets users ‘see’ only the headlines or just the bottom line

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

OrCam Technologies devices help the blind and visually impaired read texts via audio feedback (YouTube screenshot)
OrCam Technologies devices help the blind and visually impaired read texts via audio feedback (YouTube screenshot)

OrCam Technologies, the maker of artificial intelligence-based wearable devices to help the blind and visually impaired read texts via audio feedback, has launched a new feature that gives users the ability to use voice commands to get a better “reading experience.”

The Smart Reading feature, released last month in the US, can be integrated into the devices that the Jerusalem-based firm has been selling worldwide, including the wearable 22.5 g/0.8 oz. MyEye, which uses a high resolution video camera magnetically attached to a pair of glasses that can instantly read aloud printed text and digital screens and recognize faces, products/bar codes, money and colors.

The other device is the OrCam Read, a handheld digital reader, meant to help people with language processing challenges, including dyslexia. The device captures and reads out full pages of text and digital screens.

The new Smart Reading feature will enable users to tell the device what to focus on.

So, for example, users can ask the device to read only the newspaper headlines, or solely the vegetarian items on a menu. It is also able to read out a bill’s bottom line, or just the date on a page.

The Smart Reading feature combines OrCam’s advanced computer vision and natural language understanding (NLU) technologies. The voice-activated feature is just in English for now, but will be available in the coming weeks in Japanese, German, French and Spanish, said Rafi Fischer, the firm’s public and media relations director.

Those who recently bought the OrCam MyEye device will receive the Smart Reading upgrade, he said, and in future the Smart Reading feature will be available, along with the original gesture-activated text-to-speech engine, on every device, he said.

In Israel, two health providers, Maccabi Healthcare Services and Clalit Health Services, have agreed to partially subsidize the devices, with funding dependent on the level of the users’ visual impairment, though in the US private insurers do not cover the device as yet, Fischer said. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has fully subsidized the devices for hundreds of veterans of all ages, he said.

The startup was founded in 2010 by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, who are also the founders of auto technology firm Mobileye, which was sold to Intel Corp. in 2017 for a whopping $15.3 billion.

OrCam MyEye device was chosen as a 2019 TIME Best Invention.

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