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Device that scans objects and reads out the text offers independence for low vision patients


A new portable vision device can significantly improve the lives and independence of patients with limited vision, a new study suggests.

The OrCam, currently available to UK patients in limited ‘pre-launch’ numbers, includes a miniature camera and earpiece, which can be clipped onto a pair of spectacles, as well as a cord-attached battery pack and computer.

When activated by the user, the system takes a photo of the object it is pointed at, and reads out the text it finds in that picture into the person’s ear.

A University of California, Davis Eye Centre, team evaluated how the system impacted the lives of patients and compared to other available low vision aids, from magnifying lenses to smartphone applications.

In a small study published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, 12 legally blind patients were asked to complete 10 daily living tasks, from reading a sign or a menu, to identifying one bank note from another.

Unassisted, most of the 12 patients could only complete one task – telling a bank note apart. This increased to an average of 9.5 of the 10 tasks when the patients used the OrCam system.

For comparison, seven participants were also asked to complete these tasks with the low vision aids they currently used. They were, on average, able to complete six of the 10 tasks, ophthalmology researcher, Professor Mark Mannis told OT.

Even with some of the limitations of the OrCam system – such as its inability to recognise special fonts – the study participants were very positive about it, Professor Mannis said.

He added: “Most patients, even elderly patients, found the device easy and convenient to use.”

Another benefit was that low vision patients could complete the tasks more quickly and more naturally than before, he said.

“Most study participants felt that it was a significant advancement for them – easy to use, convenient and unobtrusive.”

The University of California researchers were not involved in the development of the OrCam, he said.