Life & Culture

Eye-opening way to 'regain' sight by Israeli scientists

The new invention, called MyEye, fits on to any glasses frame; its tiny camera can read your book, and then relay the words back to you


Israeli scientists have restored sight — and independence — to those who are going blind. MyEye, from OrCam, uses a tiny camera to read every kind of text, from bank statements to letters and newspapers, and record the faces of friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

The invention fits on to almost any glasses or sunglasses and contains a speaker pointing towards the ear, which relays data captured by the camera, “so people with seriously impaired vision can know what is in their bank statements without needing to ask others,” says Dr Yonatan Wexler, OrCam’s executive vice-president of research and development. “The device lets them know instantly who is in front of them and helps them come back from the supermarket with the grocery products they intended to buy.”

Need for the camera, which can store images of up to 100 faces and 150 objects, from the size of a pack of cards to a cereal box, is growing rapidly with our increased life expectancy, he says. “Only one in 2,000 people is totally blind but one in 200 has impaired vision, with sight problems affecting one in three by the age of 60.”

Macular degeneration is a major risk with age: “The macula goes first and those who are losing it can shake your hand but not see your face in detail.They also can’t read and, while there are text-enlargement devices, there comes a point where enlarging the font isn’t practical — by the time you come to the end of a document you can’t remember the beginning.”

Wexler, who studied computer vision technology at Oxford University as well as in America and Israel and holds a research prize, was motivated to pursue his field by the experience of his sister. “She lost sight in one eye and had blurry vision in the other, due to a tumour.” She regained her sight but Wexler was deeply affected by the impact of losing vision, “how it changes your perception of the world and how you could continue to function in it without becoming dependent”.

He spent five years helping the Israeli founders develop MyEye: “I have worked in the field of artificial intelligence and vision for 30 years but the challenge was to deliver the algorithm in an energy-efficient way,” he says of the brains of the device, a smartphone-sized tablet carried in the wearer’s pocket and lasting a full day without recharging.

Since the American launch and opening of a European office in London and another in Toronto, several thousand devices have been sold, in 12 countries — the device “speaks” six languages, including English and Hebrew, and is learning more all the time.

MyEye costs around £2,400 in the UK, where two million people are thought to be living with sight loss. A text-reading version without face recognition costs £1,800 and Henshaws, a charity, is directing potential users to grants for buying the device.

OrCam was founded in Jerusalem in 2010 by Professor Amnon Shashua, who holds the Sachs Chair in computer science at Hebrew University and Ziv Aviron, the entrepreneur with whom he co-founded Mobileye, a collision-avoidance system for drivers. Mobileye was sold for $15 billion earlier this year and the pair are committed to launching further wellness aids harnessing artificial intelligence. Coming soon from OrCam will be MyMe, a wearable device to help with everyday tasks from making one’s way safely out of a building to finding the nearest WC.


See for more information and free demonstrations


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