Dr. Phil Highlights Israeli Invention That Enables Blind To Read, Recognize Faces

October 15, 2018

5 min read

If a unique, Israeli-invented electronic device had been available during Biblical times, it could have changed the future of the Jewish people, for the worse.

OrCam, the brilliant technology that allows the blind and vision-impaired not only to read but also to identify faces, would have informed Yitzhak that Yaakov had “tricked” him into giving him the birthright and blessing that Esau had traded for a pot of lentil soup.

When Esau went to hunt game and bring it home before receiving his father’s blessing, his mother, Rivka, sent Yaakov to bring two kids to cook for Isaac. When he returned, she dressed him in Esau’s clothing and covered his arms and neck with the goat’s skins so Isaac would identify him as the hairy-bodied Esau. The blind patriarch blessed Yaakov:

May Hashem give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow to you; Be master over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you; Blessed they who bless you.”

The rest is (Jewish) history.

But seriously, if OrCam had existed since the time of the Bible, it would have been a life changer for the many people blinded by disease, old age, violence or other circumstances.

OrCam Israel (“or” means light in Hebrew, and “cam” represents camera) was founded eight years ago by two Israelis, Prof. Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, who founded Mobileye – the autonomous vehicle technology company founded in 1999 and based in Jerusalem. Mobileye was bought by the Intel Corporation in March 2017 for $15 billion.

Their vision was to make possible artificial vision that would help the blind and visually impaired to carry out basic everyday activities.

The invention is a finger-sized technology combining a microprocessor and camera that take text to which the user points and reads it to the user. In addition, the product recognizes faces, performs product identification and identifies colors and banknotes, thus providing a high level of user independence.

Their exciting invention was recently presented by American clinical psychologist and TV personality Dr. Phil (McGraw), who became a daytime television celebrity thanks to his weekly appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s popular talkshow.

Dr. Phil interviewed Scotty, who was a US soldier and major in the US military sent to Iraq in October, 2004. Six months later, he was the victim of a suicide bomb attack that left him totally blind and struggling emotionally. Depression is something I fell deep into,” said Scotty who credits his wife, Tiffany, with giving him the strength to forge ahead. The US military awarded Scotty with the prestigious Purple Heart for his bravery.

Today, Scotty and Tiffany have three young sons. And, thanks to OrCam, which was provided him free by the US Department of Veteran Affairs Eye Clinics, he is now able to read to his boys, recognize their faces and more. “It has been life-changing for me,” said Scotty, who took a book in his hands and called over his nine-year-old son. Pointing to the text, read the words out load to his smiling and proud son.

“OrCam is the world’s most advanced wearable artificial vision device,” said Dr. Bryan Wolynski, a low-vision optometrist and consultant with the Jerusalem company. “It’s as small as your finger, and it attaches to almost any pair of eyeglasses.” Newspapers, books, signs, menus, product labels and even electronic screens can be read to the blind or visually impaired person.

Dr. Phil chose OrCam as the best company to help blind, visually impaired and dyslexic individuals and even those who experience fatigue in reading during basic, everyday activities.

The public commission for deciding what medical technologies will be added to the Israeli basket of health service in 2019 is now discussing whether to include it so that every blind or visually impaired person can purchase the device.  At present, the basket has a category of hearing aids, not visual aids; now there is an opportunity to open a new category of vision devices. It is already subsidized by health systems in several other countries, as it makes its users more independent.

Israel is so proud of OrCam that when famous visitors come and want to see local technology, the device to help the visually disabled is usually on the list. When Britain’s Prince William made a short but official trip to the country last summer, OrCam was one of the inventions that impressed him highly. “The prince read a couple lines from an article that Blind Veterans put out. He had a big smile on his face,” recalled an OrCam executive.

In 2016, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Ophthalmology published a study involving 12 legally blind participants to evaluate the usefulness of the portable artificial vision device. The results reportedly showed that OrCam significantly improved the patient’s ability to perform tasks simulating those of daily living, such as reading a message on an electronic device, a newspaper article or a menu.

Users say that the device is quite intuitive, as they need only point a finger at what they’re looking at and wait a couple of seconds. They can move their fingers around or put the palm of their hand on the text to stop the device. If the text is held upside down, OrCam can even tell the user to turn it around. It identifies money exactly, so if you’re looking at a $10 bill, it will say so and not confuse it with $20. If you’re trying to read text in a foreign language, OrCam will translate it into any of a number of foreign tongues.

According to consumer experts, MyEye will store and recognize up to 150 credit cards, pantry items, household cleaners and other objects from the size of a pack of playing cards to a box of cereal. To add an item to the device’s memory, press and hold the trigger button until it prompts you with “Start new product learning. Please point at the product three times at different positions.” It’s best to take one photo with the item at arm’s length, a second closer up, and the third using a different background, according to experts who tried it.

Facial recognition available in the more-expensive MyEye is very helpful to the blind. You just teach the device who is in front of you, and the face is stored in its memory. If someone you know is talking to you, the user just orients his face towards him, and the device will tell him the name of the person. If you are unfamiliar with the person who is speaking, the device will describe him or her simply (“a young woman is in front of you”).

The device comes in two versions, the $3,500 MyEye, which also identifies faces, and the simpler, $2,500 MyReader, which has only the reading function. The voice can be sounded by a male or female. The products are available for purchase in various countries and operate in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Hebrew. The devices soon will also be able to read Arabic, Russian, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish and certain Asian languages.

The lightweight devices, mounted on the frame of the user’s eyeglasses, can read any text aloud or quietly transmit the words to the wearer using a personal speaker.

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