The first thing to say about the OrCam MyEye 2.0 is that it is extremely light and fixes easily to a magnetic mount attached to the sidearm of a pair of glasses. What it does is follow gestures that you make and read out printed text or text on computer screens into your ear. Very useful if you are blind or have low vision! It’s also extremely expensive – about €4000.
The magnetic mount is clever – it does not work if you attempt to attach the Orcam pointing backwards. But as the picture above shows, it needs a pair of glasses with a solid sidearm. If your prescription glasses aren’t like that you’ll need to get a suitable pair of plain glass frames for the Orcam and wear them over the top of your prescription glasses.
In addition, if you want to use Orcam in real life to read menus in a restaurant, or figure out which tin you have picked up in the shop, then you’re going to need a head torch too, as it needs good light. Long hair doesn’t suit it either. So next time you see someone wandering around looking like Professor Branestaum, that could just be a well-heeled Orcam user…
I don’t have a vision issue other than reading glasses, but I do have a well-heeled older friend with very low vision who comes back to Ireland once a year to visit family. And she has bought an Orcam. In fact, she’s had three. Two had to be returned because they malfunctioned. And because she lives in South America and OrCam are in Israel, she’s only had use of the OrCam for two months out of ten as a result. This third one has been sent to her without its user manual. Perhaps there is a certain lack of market readiness on the part of the OrCam organisation because although my friend is an enthusiastic tech user, it is difficult for her to find and read the user manual online. So she’d specifically requested they return the user manual – several times.
She kindly lent me the Orcam for this review, if in return I would figure a couple of problems for her and sort out a printout of the manual. If you would prefer an OrCam review written by a visually impaired user, try this one: https://www.afb.org/aw/19/8/15066. I figured out one issue – why swipe sometimes changes volume and sometimes causes it to jump through the recorded text. If the camera is pointed down to the ground, it changes volume. If it is locked on and reading something 30 cm away, then it navigates forwards and back through the text. But I couldn’t have figured that out without the manual and the excellent short videos on the OrCam website https://www.orcam.com/en/user-area/.
Charging up the OrCam is easy – it takes about half an hour to charge and two hours to run out of juice. It is pretty intelligent about putting itself into a low-power mode when you stop using it for any reason, but for anyone that wants to use it a lot, you are going to miss the pocket battery pack that came with the previous version of the product. But it is light and wireless. And it does not need WiFi to work. It only needs WiFi to update its operating software every now and then. It really does provide a lot of independence with frustrating tasks like knowing whether that envelope is actually for you or for your family member before you open it… There is lots to like about this gadget, which has also been promoted for people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties.
There are three basic gestures required to use OrCam. You tap/press the side to start, stop or confirm a command. You swipe gently along the side to change something – volume, or which menu you want to use. And you point at what you want it to read (ideally your finger points a couple of lines below where you want it to start). This short video shows Orcam being used to read text on a computer screen – a tap to get Orcam’s attention, a point to start it reading and further pointing to make it switch and read different bits of the page. Apologies to anyone who can see my filthy gardener’s fingernail, but I wonder did the contrast of the nail make it easier for Orcam to spot my finger?
And here’s one of the main problems. If your vision is very low, like my friend, when Orcam gets to the end of a section, it beeps to say that it’s run out of text to speech and to ask you to tell it what to do next. If your vision means you pretty much have no clue what bit of the page it has just read, then it’s very hard to point to the next section to get a smooth reading experience. It’s also inconsistent about where it starts to read. Filming the video above was hard because it kept trying to read the text on the smartphone screen instead of the computer screen. If you are reading in company with someone else, you will naturally tend to turn your head to communicate with them, and that confuses both Orcam and the user still further.
There are other methods you can use to focus Orcam on what to read. You can just look at a piece of text for a specified length of time, or you can tap the Orcam and hold your head steady. But it wants the reading material about 30 cm away, directly in front of your eyes. I think that probably means you need a reading stand that you’re comfortable with for longer tasks.
Another difficulty is getting into the settings menu. There are two methods. If you take OrCam off the glasses and point the camera down to the ground, you can grasp it in two hands, pressing the power button whilst also swiping, and releasing the power button at the end of the swipe. Not impossible but tricky for anyone without good dexterity and memory. Or you can ask it to read a piece of paper on which you have printed out the text “OrCam Please Enter User Menu”. You should only need to go through the settings once, of course.
But setting the time and date, and making sure it can connect to WiFi are also functions that involve similar rigmaroles of going to particular websites, typing in information and then asking OrCam to recognise QR codes or text displayed on the screen. I think a lot of users will require sighted help to achieve these “setup” tasks.
I found OrCam does not like any disturbance to the printed text, such as the use of fluorescent highlighter markers. My friend has found that in addition to needing a head torch to provide extra light in shops, OrCam’s “product identification” feature doesn’t work too well on round items like tins that distort text away from the two-dimensional “page”. You can teach it the products you like and it can recognise what they are when you pick something up. It can also spot colours and money – but then so can many excellent apps these days. You can also raise your wrist up as though looking at a watch in front of OrCam and it will understand that you want to be told the time and date – but this looks pretty weird when out in public if you don’t have a watch on your wrist.
One setting to be aware of is that OrCam needs to know the frequency of the electricity supply in your country (that’s 60Hz in most of America and 50 Hz in most of Europe). This affects the frequency of fluorescent lighting and if not set correctly for the camera, can cause interference patterns that affect the performance of the gadget under fluorescent lighting as widely found in shops and offices.
OrCam is expensive and may be superseded by apps such as Seeing AI. Its “USP” (unique selling proposition) is that it does not need Wifi or mobile signal to operate and you do not need to be able to hold a phone. OrCam is a light device that just sits on the arm of a pair of glasses. You can just look in the direction of the text and point with your finger, or remain still. Another point of difference is for people who don’t like wearing an earpiece is that OrCam’s speaker is beside the ear, so it can be heard by the user without intruding into the ear.
Another video to illustrate the Orcam’s purpose is here:
So I think we’re all still waiting for a cheaper, smarter OrCam version 3 with a longer operating time – and hoping that the initial interest in the product will have been enough to help the company expand, and develop its clever addition to the AT armoury further, along with putting in place improved customer support.