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OrCam goes on sale at Dyslexia Box – Device reads text on screens, road signs, and retail products – and boasts face recognition and gesture control

Dyslexia is an impediment to reading which can be resolved, or at least diminished in terms of its significance, by using technology. Raising awareness of that technology is Dyslexia Box’s mission.

The start-up is based at Allia’s Future Business Centre in Cambridge and is run by Ben Lewis with Larry Jenkins, along with associated trainers and other experts.

Ben, who has 10 years’ experience in the sector, started Dyslexia Box erlier this year because he saw a lack of follow-through from organisations offering expertise and services.

“We provide a range of products and services including assisted technology and services around that,” he explains. “We provide reasonable adjustments so if you have a disabled employee we’ll come and assess what’s need to make that person fully able to contribute, which includes training and feedback – an end-to-end service.”

OrCam: offers an enhanced experience of the environment for those with impaired vision or suffering from dyslexia. Picture: Keith Heppell
OrCam: offers an enhanced experience of the environment for those with impaired vision or suffering from dyslexia. Picture: Keith Heppell

The motivation to assist those suffering from dyslexia has been encouraged by the Equality Act of 2010, which requires employers and service providers to overcome barriers experienced by disabled people.

Dyslexia Box is a member of the British Assistive Technology Association and the British Dyslexia Association, and is helping to fulfill the government’s Disability Confident Scheme. Clients include Leeds City Council – the inaugural Leeds Dyslexia Festival next month will take place at Elland Road and 500 delegates and visitors have already signed up – plus the Prince’s Trust, Open University, the University of Exeter and “various UK local and national government agencies”.

“There’s an extensive international market and we’re selling to Australia, Canada, the US and countries in Europe,” Ben adds.

Dyslexia Box’s top-selling product is the Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software package, priced from £70.

“The user speaks into a headset and the software dictates what’s said, it works alongside programmes including Word and Outlook.

“It’s the world’s best-selling speech recognition software and powers other applications,” says Ben.

Dyslexia screeners are also much in demand. Launched in February, a screener costs £10 and avoids the need for a full dyslexia test, which costs around £700.

But the main attrraction is Dyslexia Box’s newest product, the OrCam, which attaches to your glasses and reads the text you put in front of it, whether it’s a book, a road sign, a smartphone, a product on the supermarket shelf or a bank note.

The OrCam looks rather like the Google Glass that had such an unhappy – and very temporary – shelf life when it was launched six years ago. Google Glass was discontinued as a consumer product – it is still used by professionals including doctors – because it had a video camera: users were assaulted in public by those who thought they were being filmed and the product was withdrawn from retail sale after less than three years.

Fortunately, however, the OrCam doeesn’t have a video recorder, and the camera only reads texts: it’s a read-only device. It has potential not just for dyslexia sufferers, but also for those with impaired or no vision.

“It is controlled by gestures, by the touch bar on the device and by auto page detection – if you look at a page of script for three to five seconds it will automatically read it out,” Ben explains.

The OrCam also contains a speaker, and is Bluetooth-enabled if you prefer to transfer the audio to another speaker – or to a hearing aid.

Ben lifts his hand up and turns his wrist towards his face as if he’s looking at a watch, but he’s not wearing a watch. The OrCam speaks the time. Best demonstration I’ve seen since the Stand Up Against Racism march last month.

The device is also adept at facial recognition.

“It’s programmed to recognise faces,” Ben says. “It takes 10 seconds, so when I meet you it’ll subsequently be able to tell me it’s you, even across a room full of people.”

The OrCam also scans barcodes and tells you the product details – but there’s no software involved, it’s all located in the surprisingly light attachment, which clips on to your glasses.

OrCam, which is both a firm and a product, was founded in 2010 by Professor Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, who are also the co-founders of Mobileye, the collision avoidance system leader and autonomous driving innovator.

Mobileye is used by 90 per cent of the world’s car makers to make their vehicles safer to drive. In 2014, Mobileye claimed the title for largest Israeli IPO ever, and in August 2017, Intel acquired the firm for $15.3billion, the biggest ever acquisition of an Israeli hi-tech firm.

The original OrCam MyEye was launched in 2015, and the next generation OrCam MyEye 2.0 was launched in 2017. There are now two devices on sale: the MyReader – everything except face recognition – is priced at £2,500 plus VAT. The full-featured MyEye costs £3,500 plus VAT. A 12-month warranty is included in the MyEye price, while the MyReader gets a two-year guarantee.

“Everything you buy from us involves aftersales care within the price,” says Ben, “so you get all your resolutions – assessment, product, training, servicing – from one place.”

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