OrCam, an Israeli company working on augmented reality for the blind and vision impaired, has raised $30.4 million. According to Reuters, which broke the news, the round included Israeli insurer Clal Insurance and investment group Meitav Dash. The round takes the company's total funding to just over $130 million and place's the company's valuation at $1 billion. CEO Ziv Aviram told Reuters the company is prepping for an IPO.
Aviram previously founded MobilEye, a technology company that uses machine vision to help autonomous cars avoid collisions. Intel bought that company for more than $15 billion. OrCam also uses machine vision, but turns it toward a healthcare use case, helping partially and fully blind individuals to navigate the world.
The company makes a series of devices, the MyEye 1 and MyEye 2.0, that clip to the side of a pair of glasses and also contain an earpiece. The camera can look at objects, analyze them, and explain them to the user via an electronic voice. The MyEye 2.0 can read text to the user, recognize up to 100 stored faces, identify products at the store based on packaging or bar codes, and identify the amounts of bills. It can even identify colors of garments to assist with shopping. MyEye 2.0 was announced at CES this year.
One thing that makes OrCam's technology unique is that it doesn't require users to point their phones at what they want to "look at" the same way Samsung's Relúmĭno or Novartis's Via Opta Daily does. Instead, the user merely points their hand at what they want to identify and the camera recognizes the gesture.
MyEye is also fully automated and doesn't require connectivity, which ought to make it more scalable than the technology from San Diego-based Aira which remotely connects users with human agents who can then see from the user's persepctive and help them navigate. It could also potentially be used in situations where more privacy is desired.
Augmented reality to help the blind see is an old vision for mobile health: MobiHealthNews was writing about early attempts in 2009. But computer vision and artificial intelligence have improved leaps and bounds in the meantime.