A blind British teenager is now able to ‘see’ thanks to spectacles fitted with a miniature ‘spy camera’ that can recognise words, images and even faces.
Information from the camera is translated into computer-generated speech which tells the user what they are looking at through a discreet earpiece.
Charities have hailed the innovation as an invaluable tool for the two million Britons currently living with blindness or sight loss.
Connor Simpson, 15, from North Ayrshire, was born totally blind. But now, thanks to the ground-breaking technology, he has gained a level of independence he and his family never thought possible.
Now, thanks to the ground-breaking technology, 15-year-old Connor Simpson has gained a level of independence he and his family never thought possible
Connor’s mother Janice recalls the first time her son was able to read and order from a restaurant menu, weeks after receiving the device.
The 59-year-old carer says: ‘An activity as simple as reading a menu and ordering from it is something so many of us take for granted, but Connor had never been able to do it. It was a really lovely moment.’
The miniature gadget, called OrCam MyEye 2.0, is the size of a finger and allows blind and partially sighted people to read text from emails to books and even on advertising hoardings.
He reads anything without using braille or audiobooks
It is able to recognise products and banknotes, and has potential to help those with dyslexia or those learning to speak again after a brain injury.
The device resembles a compact, smart camera which is magnetically attached to the user’s glasses.
First, the camera takes a picture of what the user is looking at. It then uses sophisticated algorithms to interpret the information, at a similar speed to healthy eyes, and tells the user what it is.
Users can specify elements of the OrCam’s ‘voice’, such as local dialect and gender.
The device can function fully without internet connectivity thanks to refined artificial intelligence, developed by the same computer science professors at the University of Jerusalem that pioneered self-driving car technology.
The camera helps users read by shining LED lights on a passage of text, guided by the point of a user’s finger.
The device can function fully without internet connectivity thanks to refined artificial intelligence, developed by the same computer science professors at the University of Jerusalem that pioneered self-driving car technology. Pictured: OrCam founder Ziv Aviram
When the desired spot is recognised, the device emits a beep, instructing users to remove the finger.
It ‘reads’ the words and recalls them to the user via the earpiece. To make it stop reading, users hold up their hands in front of the camera.
Ian White, an OrCam trainer who is partially sighted, says: ‘I can open my fridge and tell a yogurt from a pot of rice pudding.
‘I can go to the train station and find out what time my train is coming from the board, without having to ask someone.
‘Or I can pick out my own clothes confidently, thanks to a colour recognition system, telling me whether a jumper is green or pink.’
He adds: ‘One of the most useful features is the facial recognition system. You simply touch the button on the camera and, after a tone, say the person’s name. The camera scans the dimensions of the person’s face and stores them.
‘Next time that person comes into view, the device will immediately recognise them and announce their name in their voice.
I can go to the train station and find out what time my train is coming from the board, without having to ask someone
‘It’s the same with a tin of beans or syrup. It can tell the difference between HP beans or Heinz beans – it stores details of new products that have been uploaded.’
The OrCam device has already made a huge difference to Connor’s life in the few weeks he’s had it.
‘He thinks it’s absolutely brilliant,’ Janice says.
‘Before he had no sight at all and it was very difficult for him to access papers, magazines or books.
Now he can read anything he chooses, without having to get a braille version or an audiobook.’
The OrCam MyEye 2.0 costs £3,600. It is not yet available on the NHS, but some organisations offer grants towards it and charities may part-fund it.
Connor’s device was paid for by a fundraising campaign organised by a family friend.
Robin Spinks, Innovation and Technology Partnerships Manager at the RNIB, says: ‘OrCam’s pioneering assistive technology offers users increased independence by allowing them to read printed or digital text, road signs, products in shops, and even to recognise the faces of loved ones.
‘This gives blind and partially sighted people a greater sense of freedom and helps them to face the future with confidence.’
For more information on OrCam MyEye 2.0, click here.
HEALTH NOTES: Kate pays Vitamin D price for 3am starts
Good Morning Britain favourite Kate Garraway, right, says her 3am starts have taken their toll on her health.
The presenter, a regular on ITV breakfast TV since 2000, admits that a lack of daylight left her bones damaged – a result of a severe Vitamin D deficiency.
‘I got really achy bones,’ she says. ‘I was up early, working late and not getting enough daylight in the studio. My doctor prescribed a daily Vitamin D supplement.’
The 50-year-old mother-of-two says the treatment worked, adding: ‘I’ve felt a tremendous improvement.’
She also says unsociable hours played havoc with her healthy eating plans. ‘I have a sweet tooth and with weird work hours, I end up eating sugar when what I actually need is sleep!’
Gardening can help recovering addicts kick the habit for good, as a new community project has shown.
When engaged in weekly group garden activities such as planting herbs, adults with drug and alcohol addiction successfully abstained for up to three years and reported an increase in happiness, life satisfaction and physical health.
More than 2,000 vulnerable adults – with mental-health problems, autism, and learning difficulties – enrolled in Brighton-based scheme Sharing The Harvest.
After the six-month project, a decrease in depressive symptoms was reported in 97 per cent of participants.
Jess Crocker, senior manager of the scheme, said: ‘Mental-health benefits of gardening now seem irrefutable, but community gardening does something more: it links people in urban settings to places where food can be grown together, and shows how skills and confidence can be built.’
Male peer pressure in the loo
Men are often accused of lacking in hygiene, but new research reveals they are more likely to wash their hands and flush the toilet when others are around.
Researchers monitored men using a public bathroom – with and without an observer – and recorded whether or not hands were washed and the toilet was flushed.
When men were alone, observers were either subtly watching or listening outside for the sound of washing and flushing.
The findings reported in the journal Economic Inquiry found men were 13 per cent more likely to wash their hands and 15 per cent more likely to flush the loo when they had company.
A new website launched last week hoping to tackle soaring rates of depression in young men.
Called The Book Of Man, it features articles on male suicide, fatherhood and the ‘me too’ movement, as well as lifestyle content such as DIY and gadget tips.
The website has been launched in partnership with the charity CALM (Campaign Against Men Living Miserably).
According to the charity, suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45.
In the UK, male suicide rates are three times higher than female suicide rates and in the Republic of Ireland five times higher. More information at www.thebookofman.com.