Wearable device IDs faces, reads text for the blind

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Losing her vision was never part of Adrienne Norbeck's plan.

"I just see a field of gray," she said. "I knew it was a possibility. It is for every diabetic but it never thought it would happen to me."

Norbeck, 31, a lifelong diabetic, said that three years ago her bad habits caught up with her. Her vision suddenly deteriorated.

"I was scared, frustrated, angry," she said. "Really angry for a while."

Her life was quickly turned upside down. She lost her sense of independence.

"I was home with the television on, all day, and that was really hard for me," she said. "Alone with my thoughts, which is scary."

After navigating the grief process, Norbeck began learning braille and taking rehabilitation classes to prepare for her new normal. Then, last December, she was introduced to the OrCam MyEye 2.0.

"It's just like wearing a pair of glasses, which I was used to before anyway," she said.

The MyEye is an artificial vision device with a lightweight smart camera. It can read text aloud from any surface as well as recognize faces, products, and money notes in real time.

"The camera is going to take a picture of the environment, it's going to translate to audio and whisper in my ear," Rhys Filmer, an OrCam representative, explained.

The first MyEye device launched about four years ago. Since then, OrCam 's engineers in Israel were able to redesign the technology into a device the size of a finger.

"I think we're down to about 10th of the size and more than a 10th of the weight—0.8 of an ounce,"

Both versions are still on the market. The cost isn't cheap—starting at $3,500. But its users would attest that its impact is priceless.

"When there's something like OrCam out there to show them—it's a great feeling that there's something out there, there's a solution for their needs," said Dr. Bryan Wolynski, a low-vision optometrist and a consultant for OrCam. He said the device will remain useful for patients during any stage of vision loss.

"It is seeing for you and giving you the information," he said.

As a consultant for OrCam, Wolynski offers training for his patients and other professionals in the field.

"The OrCam device can be used by anyone of any technological ability, of anyone of any age, as well as any type of vision loss or eye disease," he said.

The device itself simply magnetically snaps onto an eyeglass frame. The technology is intuitive.

"You can hold it up in front of you. You can either trigger it up here or do this pointing gesture like this," Filmeri said, demonstrating with a book. "It's going to take a picture of the page."

Then the device then reads the text to the user. Then the user makes a stop gesture to silence it.

The features on the MyEye can all be adjusted to best fit its user.

For Norbeck, it has been life-changing.

"I do use it daily," she said. "The biggest thing I use it for is grocery shopping."

This device can be programmed to store up to 150 different products, which is critical for users who have food allergies, as Norbeck does. And not only that though, it can also save 100 faces. That real-time facial-recognition technology lends itself to greater ease in social settings, thereby furthering independence.

"It's helped me to get back to the things that I love to do on my own again," Norbeck said.

How much has it helped? This September, armed with her newfound confidence, Norbeck hopes to be back in school studying to become a nutritionist.

"I hope to help people eat better and take better care of themselves so that they don't have to through this like I did," Norbeck said.

You can read more information here.