By Helmuth Fuchs
Moneycab: Dr. Wexler, the device you developed at OrCam is a life changer for visually impaired or blind people. It’s a small camera that can be attached to any glasses, analyzes everything around you and verbalizes it through a small earpiece. What were the biggest technical obstacles you had to overcome, which are the unique and patented pieces of your solution?
Yonatan Wexler: We realized early on that the device needs to be independent. This allows it to work anywhere all the time. So it is dependable. It also allows the device to respond immediately to the user’s request. Many customers tell us that it brought back the joy of reading to them, and how much it simplified their lives. Packing such a high level of intelligence to a small, power efficient package was one of the bigger challenges we faced.
Which people can benefit immediately from your solution, which regions in the world are next in your roll-out plan?
The OrCam MyEye is useful to a wide range of people with difficulty reading. This includes blind, low vision, dyslexic people, and those who get eye strain. Age-wise we have young children, school children, young adults, students, young professionals, and seniors. The device supports 12 languages now, including English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. More languages are coming out soon.
„Many customers tell us that it brought back the joy of reading to them, and how much it simplified their lives.“ Yonatan Wexler, Executive VP R&D, OrCam
Loss of vision tends to happen later in life at a point where people have a profession and want to continue with their work. The MyEye enables people to read material quickly and naturally and so helps people be more productive. We also have many younger customers who use the device for their studies.
The OrCam combines several challenging areas like advanced camera technology, augmented reality, big data, image and text to speech or real time analysis. Where is all the computational power packed in such a small wearable device?
We design the whole system together. This starts from the sensor, through the electronics, and the algorithms. The system as a whole is optimized to enable providing the users with the correct answer with the least amount of energy. This allows us to pack superior AI into a very power efficient package. The device understands gestures, can read, and recognize many things so that it can be of use for the wearer in the most natural way.
What is your personal vision for OrCam, what drives you as the head of Research and Development for the near future?
OrCam is leading the way in creating truly smart wearables that enhance people’s lives. We are working on expanding the amount of environmental understanding so we can provide more assistance to our customers. We help people by providing them with useful information about their environment. Our first product is designed for people suffering from low sight, and our next will address needs of everyone. The modern lifestyle is full of distractions and we all suffer from information overload. Picking the useful bits of this torrent of details is something many people value.
„OrCam is leading the way in creating truly smart wearables that enhance people’s lives.“
Which are the most important upcoming technological breakthroughs that will allow you to realize your vision for OrCam?
We are experts in the field of computer vision and artificial intelligence. The combination of the two and the progress in recent years made us believe that we can achieve something that seemed impossible only few years ago.
Which are the next products in the OrCam pipeline, what are the most challenging problems you working on currently?
We are expanding the capabilities to include more functionality for a broader audience. This requires higher levels of understanding and better ways of communication. Our next device is a small clip-on that fits on the shirt. It is geared for people who suffer from face blindness (2.5% of the population) by telling the wearer the names of the people they meet.
Israel is one of the worldwide hotspots for high tech startups. What makes it uniquely attractive for startups, what are lessons to be learned for Switzerland to be equally successful in the startup space?
This is a big question… A short answer is that Israelis are hard working and have penchant for making the world a better place. A good starting point for a longer answer is probably to read the “Startup Nation” book by Paul Singer (smiles).
„I can see an IPO in the next two years.“
The two founders of OrCam, Professor Amnon Shashua and CEO Ziv Aviram, are also the founders of one of the biggest unicorns, Mobileye, which was acquired by Intel in March for over 15 billion USD. Now Intel also invested 6 million in your latest investment round of 41 million USD, which values OrCam at 600 millions. What are your growth plans, when do you see an IPO as an option?
We are indeed growing fast. The technology we are creating at OrCam is groundbreaking in many ways and is useful in a wide range of products and there are constant approaches from various players. We are expanding our sales to more countries and regions so we can reach everyone in the world that can benefit from this groundbreaking solution. I can see an IPO in the next two years.
If you are granted a wish, what would it be?
I wish to get a hug from each of our customers.
Video, showing how OrCam improves the lives of its customers
This interview was made possible by the Digital Festival