Orcam Revue By Ian Cooper

OK this has to be one of the strangest things. I was able to read a book, might sound silly but as I have been totally Blind for the last 11 years the novelty of picking up a book and reading it was … unbelievable!

Right Orcam is the neatest OCR product I have come across in a while. There are two versions; the My Eye and the My Reader. Consisting of a small camera that is mounted onto the leg of your glasses with a jawbone speaker, and a power/memory/control pack joining the two with a cable. The camera will, as I said, read books, leaflets and most types of typed documents. It does not read hand-written literature at this time. What stands this little marvel out from the rest of the pack is that it can announce people when you look at them and even knows what tins of food are (this is only available in the My Eye version).

Let me explain. The camera has an ability to take pictures of people and records them onto the SD card, up to 100. You name them and when the camera picks them out again it plays the name to you. The product identifier will give you the name of some foods that have been stored in its memory and can even record specialist foods, so no more worrying if that is a tin of beans or the dog’s food.

I got to try this out for 5 days and was able to work the menus within a minute or two, it was that easy. Honestly the menus are set in a way to make it easy to navigate and select the function without the need for a PhD in inter-stellar physics. After you get the Orcam set to how you like it, then away you go. Well not exactly. This device does suffer from a slight visual impairment itself. It needs light to operate. Yes it does need a good light source to assist it, but if you are in the home, or office and can position yourself with a good light it has no problems. I love how it informed me that the book was upside down and to rotate it, and when I was shaking a little and it could not get a good image.

Is this as good as a desk top OCR device, no! But it is not designed to be a desktop reader it is designed so that you can read your mail, read a book or go shopping. Brilliant little things like the watch facility, yes just hold your arm up as if you were looking at a watch on your wrist and it tells you the time, hold it there for more than 2 seconds and the date is announced. There is an ability to pause the reading and resume it at the press of 2 buttons. You can even find out what bank notes you have in your pocket or purse. Just take the note out, take and image of it and then the Orcam will ask you to turn it round to announce what it is. This will notice £5, £10 and £20’s. I have never had a £50 note to check it out, but think it would identify it, sorry but it does not work on coins. I did have a little issue in it deducing what note I was proffering at it. Not sure if there is issues with different notes from England and Scotland.

I did like the ability to read shop signs, so now I don’t spend hours in a clothes shop when I am looking for newsagents. You have to play around with the camera to get a good image of the shop signage, as not all shops have their names in the same place, but just use the trigger and as soon as it finds a word that it can read, you have found it, or not. I did have varying success with some shop signage, but think this was to do with the lighting of the store front, and where the Sun was in the sky.

All in all it is a rather nice wee bit of kit. We are now running version 7 and with updates coming out every so often, there may be improvements and other features within a year or so. Now, as you know me, I like to put these things through a bit of an assault course, metaphorically speaking.

I tried reading a bus timetable and this met with varying results. It did tend to read in columns and this caused me issues with trying to find the time of the next bus. Also the same has to be said when reading some menus. It seems to have issues with space, by this I mean if it detects a bit of space between the words it reverts to reading in columns. An idea would be some sort of gesture that would let the Orcam read in lines for tables.

As I don’t really want to have to carry a torch around with me so that I can read something whilst not near to a good light source, or when I am out at night, maybe a better camera that could have a night image facility. This would also be useful for the facial recognition. Have to say that setting the facial recognition was a little tricky in that it wants good light on its subject and will sometimes not take the picture of the person.

There are other little points that I think could be incorporated, e.g. a colour reader and ability to read moving objects at a distance, like a bus number.

I do think that a Bluetooth connection would be good for this unit so that you are not tied up with cables hanging from your ear

Please remember this does not judge distances so don’t think it will tell you if something is close to you.

The price of this item is on the steep side, £2,200, with a potential 10% increase after January 2017, taking it to £2,420 (this is for My Eye version); although I have to say that if I had the expendable cash I would definitely purchase one of these. It does give me the ability to pick up a birthday card. A menu, a file or even an agenda for a meeting and not have to think how I am going to get this read out to me. The independence that it gives is great and also saves my blushes at meetings when I forget people’s names as it will announce them to me when I look at them.

Conclusion;

A great device that has loads of potential. Can assist with many different visual issues from reading the newspaper to seeing what date the packet of cold meat has. The Orcam gives independence to people with a need to read and opens up the ability to do more things without having to rely on someone else. Yes it is costly but compared to other OCR packages it is not too bad, especially as it is so conveniently mobile. There is really nothing out there that can do what this does and thus it really stands alone, but other systems, that might come out in the future, will have a big job to compete with the Orcam devices.

Marks out of 10. Well this would have got 10 out of 10, but for the inability to see in darker light conditions and its lack of other applications found in other devices, e.g. colour identifier. I would give this a score of 8 out of 10. For further information contact: Ruth Gallagher Carr, Sight & Sound Technologies on 07500 822892 Ian White, Orcam on 07980 302743

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