On March 9, 2020, Orcam, the Israeli assistive hardware maker that developed the powerful wearable Orcam MyEye, announced the release of Orcam Read, a hand-held alternative for scanning and reading text from nearly any surface.
Launching Orcam Read seven days before the U.S. went into lockdown for COVID-19 was unfortunate, but the reading pen is now gaining more notice from people who are blind or visually impaired who would rather not wear assistive technologies that are often unsightly at best.
With its built-in high intensity LED light and dual mode laser pointer text targeting feature, the Orcam Read offers the most capabilities for users who have at least some residual vision – but for those who do not have any eyesight, it technically can be used for spot scanning of text with speech.
At the 2022 NIB National Training Conference and Expo, an Orcam representative demonstrated that the main differentiator setting Orcam Read apart from other scanning pens is its ability to capture a whole page of text at once, not just single lines of text like most other scanning pens.
Using Read’s built-in 13-megapixel camera and laser highlighter, users can illuminate individual portions of hard-to-read print documents, books, newspapers, store signs, menus, or even computer and smartphone screens and listen to spoken translations of the selected areas within one second.
For people with no usable vision, text capture requires a bit more trial and error. On a restaurant menu, for example, I was able to capture the entire menu content by positioning the tip of the pen on the center of the menu page then lifting the pen vertically about 12-14 inches prior to pressing the scan button. The menu food items were then read back to me in structured order.
The Read’s best-in-class AI text recognition is performed entirely within the unit, so there’s no need to connect to Wi-Fi or other links, although the Read does connect to a Wi-Fi signal to download software. For privacy, users can use wired or Bluetooth headphones, or connect directly to hearing aids.
What’s more, users can give voice commands to perform scanning tasks, such as “Orcam, read me the headlines” or “Read me the amounts” from a printed bill. The speed of the spoken text can be adjusted on the fly.
Orcam primarily positions Read as a solution for people with print disabilities such as dyslexia or partial vision, and those who experience fatigue or migraines while reading. Nonetheless, I found it to be a viable alternative for users who have little to no vision who want to avoid pulling out their smartphones and loading OCR smartphone apps like Microsoft’s Seeing AI. For me, the selling point is Orcam’s unbeatable OCR accuracy, super portability, and the ability to use it all day – long after OCR smartphone apps drain your battery to zero.
Orcam provides a 30-day return guarantee, one year warranty, free training, free shipping and a payment installment option that, according to the company, has an approval rate of more than 90%. Orcam Read can be purchased directly from Orcam or through other suppliers for $1,700-$1,900, depending on provider and promotional discounts.
Technology reviews are written by Doug Goist, program manager, workforce development at NSITE and a recognized leader in the field of technology accessibility who has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, the military services, federal agencies, and private sector partners.