Artificial vision

August 13, 2013

tomorrow 3By Geoffrey W. Goodfellow, O.D., and Dominick M. Maino, O.D.

Like many facets of eye care, technology is changing the way we practice optometry.

Particularly in the area of low vision, the abundance of inexpensive computing power and applications targeted to patients with visual impairment has really expanded what we can offer.

The magnification features of the iPad alone have allowed countless individuals to read text again without the use of a bulky CCTV or special equipment.

In addition to portable electronic magnifiers, scientists have been working hard to restore sight through gene modification of damaged retinas or through prosthetic devices that send visual information directly to the brain, bypassing the retina.

See for yourself

tomorrow 2A device from OrCam has been getting a lot of attention lately because it moves beyond improving visual acuity all together.

Instead, this remarkable gadget translates visual images into auditory feedback for the user.

Imagine looking at a street sign you cannot see clearly because of a visual impairment and having your glasses read the street sign aloud to you via an earpiece.

OrCam Technologies is an Israeli start-up recently featured in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/ 11J4etp).

Although screen readers or other reading machines have been around for some time, one thing that makes the OrCam device special is its use of Shareboost technology that allows it to efficiently read or recognize street signs, newspaper articles, medication bottles, and restaurant menus.

The OrCam device has a camera that attaches unobtrusively to the temples of the wearer’s glasses.

The camera is connected by a thin cable to a tiny pocket computer that analyzes the visual image and provides auditory information via an earpiece that resembles the ear bud of an MP3 player.


Shown are several views of the OrCam device.

Shown are several views of the OrCam device.

The OrCam website (www.orcam.com) describes and shows an impressive video of some of its many functions.

For example, the device is capable of learning faces and places and can tell the user who is approaching or where he/she is located.

It can read any printed text in real time, whether it is in a book, on a sign, or on a television screen.

OrCam can even recognize hundreds of pre-installed objects. Imagine holding up a cash note from your wallet, and hearing “ten-dollar bill.”

You can also teach it to recognize new objects, such as your personal items or a particular credit card.

In addition, OrCam can do things like tell you when the traffic light changes color or which bus line is approaching.

“There are many devices that are capable of verbalizing text indoors in a controlled situation, but OrCam is really the first to provide a solution for independence outdoors,” said Erez Na’aman, OrCam Technologies vice president of Engineering and Business Development.

Although all of the above seems futuristic, this device is real and is already commercially available for an introductory price of $2,500.

The user interface has been described as the most intuitive you can imagine.

Most everything is triggered by pointing your finger at what you want to read or waving your hand.

“Since every action is done by pointing, it takes only minutes to learn how to operate the device,” said Na’aman.

As optometrists, we will continue to enhance the vision of our patients in every way possible.

However, we must not forget to provide help to those patients whose visual acuity or visual fields are limited.

In addition to all of the traditional vision rehabilitation options available to optometry, we also have some exciting technology options to recommend for our patients.

Giving patients a new found ability to read, get around on public transportation, or shop independently can be life-changing.

ODs are well-positioned to prescribe, fit, and teach patients how to use devices such as the OrCam.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AOA. 

Geoffrey G. Goodfellow, O.D., is an associate professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), ICO’s assistant dean for Curriculum and Assessment and the president of the Illinois Optometric Association. He can be contacted at ggoodfel@ico.edu. Dominick M. Maino, O.D. is a professor of pediatrics and binocluar vision at ICO and a Distinguished Practitioner of the National Academies of Practice. He can be contacted at dmaino@ico.edu.

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