A new discovery could change everything for people considered legally blind. Scientists have a created a device called the OrCam which consists of a miniature camera that attaches to a pair of glasses. The camera uses character-recognition technology to “read” written text, and relays the message to the wearer via an earpiece. The camera can also be programmed to recognize certain faces and images.
Dr. Mark Mannis, an author of the study and chair of ophthalmology at the University of California Davis, says that OrCam is easy to use and can bring visually impaired adults more independence in their daily lives.
Dr. Mannis’ research team studied a group of twelve participants with severe vision loss. The average age of the participants was 62, and all were considered legally blind. The researchers trained the participants on the use of OrCam before beginning the study. The OrCam can be activated by tapping it, pressing a button, or simply pointing it at the desired image or page of text.
After a week of regularly using OrCam, the participants were able to perform nine out of ten basic tasks, including: recognizing different types of paper money, using posted signs to find a room in a hallway, distinguishing between various cereal boxes, and reading text on a phone or tablet, a newspaper, a restaurant menu, and a page from a book.
Of the twelve participants, only one person reported having difficulty using OrCam. The rest of the participants said that OrCam was easy to use and they could consider using it on a regular basis.
Dr. Mannis stated that OrCam could be useful for older adults suffering from macular degeneration or advanced state glaucoma. These conditions are two of the main causes for vision loss in older American adults.
In particular, age-related macular degeneration is responsible for most cases of blindness in the elderly and has no cure in its later stages. Approximately 1.8 million Americans over the age of 50 suffer from age-related macular degeneration, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number is expected to grow to 3 million by the year 2020.
For many adults with vision loss whose conditions are beyond a medical cure, OrCam may be their only hope of “reading” or performing many basic tasks independently.
While most devices aimed at helping the visually impaired generally just magnify the text or image, OrCam actually reads and relays information to the wearer.
Though the pilot study for OrCam was small and more research is necessary before the device can be marketed, experts are positive about OrCam’s potential to improve the lives of the visually impaired.