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  • Writer's pictureViva Sarah Press

Augmented humanity: Telling the story of AI-powered assistive tech for the visually impaired

Two years before OrCam products became commercially available, I had the chance to see how their AI-powered solution for people with visual impairments and blindness worked in real-time.

Along with a cameraman, I met the developers of this groundbreaking wearable device in their Jerusalem office for a chat about the assistive technology they were creating.

It was 2013.

We set out to film two of the employees -- an Israeli woman who was visually impaired since childhood and a man with retinitis pigmentosa -- navigate the city streets of Jerusalem simply by pointing a finger.

It was amazing.

The woman pointed at the light at a crosswalk and the prototype device told her whether the light was red or green and whether she could cross the street.

We went to a café. She pointed at a menu and the device “read” the menu to her.

We opened a newspaper and the device “read” the headlines and articles.

Today, in 2020, this device has numerous innovation awards in its cache. It has won media coverage the world over. I still write about updates to the technology.

But back when I first reported about this story, it was a forward-looking vision of what AI could be used for. The question of whether the world would accept such a mobile device was wide open.

In the interim, Israel’s high-tech scene has become a powerhouse for AI technologies and capabilities.

And OrCam, the company behind the tiny, lightweight box that magnetically connects to any pair of eyeglass frames and reads aloud the world for people who need it, is a feather in the country’s cap of successful startups to have achieved unicorn status.

I remember that first interview a decade ago, when we sat to talk about creating an algorithm for “something that has not been done yet.”

I tell Israel's innovation stories:

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