In their later years, my mother suffered from severe macular degeneration and my father-in-law lost most of his vision due to diabetes. As two of an estimated 280 million people in the world with impaired vision from macular degeneration, degenerative myopia, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetes-related blindness, and other causes, life without effective sight was awkward at best and difficult much of the time.
Orcam Technologies’ Orcam, currently available in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, is a portable vision assistance device with a guided camera image that can read printed text, recognize faces, and learn to recognize money and product images. The information is “read” aloud to you via a bone conduction earpiece. No computer, internet access, or wireless connection are required for Orcam. The device consists of two pieces: a head unit with a camera and earpiece weighing less than an ounce that attaches to an eyeglass frame sidepiece, and a base unit that weighs just a few ounces. The base unit contains a rechargeable battery and internal memory good for retaining hundreds of personally-trained images of faces and products. The base unit is about the size of an eyeglass case, and it connects to the headpieceby a thin wire. You can clip int on a belt for convenience. The rechargeable battery is said to last a full day of “reasonable use.” To use Orcam, you learn to point with your finger at text items you want or by pressing a single button. A good example would be selecting a single item from a menu or reading a specific story on a newspaper page. Orcam might not be appropriate for some hearing impaired people although there is an audio out jack so you could use it with earbuds, headphones, or external speakers. Orcam works with printed text only, not handwriting, and it requires adequate daylight or room lighting. Currently priced at $3,500 for the full featured Orcam, there is also the Orcam Reader which “reads” text but does not have facial or product learning ability and costs $2,400.
My mom and my father-in-law both loved to read and talk with others, and the Orcam would have significantly improved the quality of their lives. The ability to use smartphones and read computer screens, newspapers and books, menus, street signs, ingredients lists, and product names, as well as credit card, insurance, telephone, and other numbers, could have the potential to significantly aid independence and improve quality of life for those with limited vision.