Until recently, the only hope for those living with blindness or low vision was to basically get used to their condition. No cure was available other than adapting to their new circumstances.
That was until Amnon Shashua, a professor of computer science at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem decided to create the OrCam. This new camera helps those who are legally blind to live independently again. They can resume the life they led before they lost their vision.
The OrCam is not a cure for blindness, nor does it restore vision. But it does have special features to recognize text, money and faces.
Blindness and Low Vision
Our vision is our most useful sense. It is the sense that largely grants us our independence. So much of the world around us is visual that if someone were to be blind or have low vision, they would be extremely dependant on friends, family and maybe even require a full-time caretaker.
Often when we hear that a person is legally blind, we assume that they cannot see at all. This is not true. Many people living with low vision can see, but not as well as you or me.
Low vision basically means that you do not have enough vision to do things you want to do. It refers to permanently reduced vision, not a complete loss of vision. In fact, a lot of people living with low vision are able to make out shapes and contrasting colors.
Blindness on the other hand refers to complete loss of vision, where an individual is unable to see. It is possible that someone who is blind can make out light and dark, but shapes, colors and details are all indistinguishable.
Either way, both conditions qualify as legally blind because they do not have enough vision to do things that need to be done.
However, whether someone is blind or living with low vision, seeing is something everyone needs to be able to do. That is why the OrCam is a fantastic new invention that just may improve the quality of life for those who are legally blind.
How the OrCam Works
The OrCam is a clever invention, to say the least. This camera does not restore vision, unfortunately there is no cure for blindness yet. But the camera does offer the next best thing – help adapting to a visual world.
Think about all the mundane things you do in a day that requires sight. Counting money, reading billboards or door signs, following directions, reading this article! The OrCam allows someone with legal blindness to do all of these things.
The camera takes the shape of classic eyewear. They look like glasses, but they’re so much more. The camera is equipped with a small speaker on the temple (or the arm) of the eye glasses. The speaker rests near the ear so that it can dictate what the camera is seeing!
The camera is rigged to recognize text and monetary bills. For example, if you were in the lobby of a building trying to figure out which floor your appointment is on, the camera would recognize the text and read out the businesses to you! All you need to do is point to what you want read.
The device can also recognize certain objects such as street signs, traffic light and even people’s faces!
The glasses come with a battery pack which can be easily clipped to a belt or put in a pocket. You wouldn’t want your OrCam to stop working halfway through the day.
However incredible this device may be, it cannot be your only guide. A white cane is often still needed to accompany the glasses for optimal results. But we think it’s still a pretty magnificent invention and one that will change people’s lives.
Up until now it has seemed that the OrCam is a little too good to be true. A camera that can see for you? Sounds like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But we assure you that this is no hoax. The studies speak for themselves.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that of 12 legally blind participants without the use of an OrCam could not read messages off of a smartphone or tablet and they could not read texts (menus, books, newspapers, etc.).
With the OrCam, participants were able to carry out both these tasks and more including distinguishing different brands of cereal and identifying different monetary bills.
The 12 participants took the OrCams home for the week, where they used them to carry out their daily activities. Of the 12, only one person had a technical difficulty with the camera, but the issue was quickly and easily resolved.
Participants of this study have said that the OrCam has a simple interface that is easy to use.
In another study, participants who were already using other low vision aids were tested to see how they fared when using the OrCam. Each participant functioned at a higher level with the OrCam than with whatever other vision aid they were using.
Cost and Where to Buy It
OrCam is now available for purchase in select spots around the country. You can find your city or the city closest to you on the OrCam map. Unfortunately the OrCam seems to be only available in bigger cities, but you can fill out a request form to have a demo sent to you.
Currently the OrCam is priced between $2500 and $3000. It isn’t cheap, but this technology could be worth it for many people.
Our hope for the invention of the OrCam is that it can help those with permanent vision loss to “see” again. It won’t be the same as actually seeing, but the OrCam provides new independence to those who had thought they lost it when they lost their vision.
The OrCam will no doubt lead the way towards a new world of technology to help improve the lives of the legally blind.