Seeing a difference, new technology OrCam MyEye gives the blind freedom

Posted at 10:59 AM, Oct 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-30 23:30:06-04

Walking into work Friday morning, Jake Schmude didn't notice the gorgeous sunrise. He didn't see the door handle, in fact, he didn't see anything at all.

Schmude said in his own words, his stark reality, "I've been blind since birth I have no optic nerves."

As a young man his family pushed him with an ultimatum, "you might be blind, but you're still going to have to take care of yourself and you're still going to have to live. The other choice is to sit in a house all day and do nothing and go to a group home," after a long pause he said, "Well that was no real choice at all for me."

Schmude said everyone in his family is stubborn as a rock, making him so driven in his chosen field of IT.

He chose to work at computers, a natural. He's self-taught, with no formal degree, and he's always looking for ways to become more efficient.

Friday morning, he was barely in his seat before a coworker asked him to unlock her computer. He nonchalantly turned on his computer and in two minutes flat, she was back online.

This begs the question, how can he do this without looking?

Schmude explained he used an iPhone, "[I would] use the phone camera and get in all kinds of contortionist positions just to get the screen in focus."

Then the phone would read whatever text was in focus in the photo. It was a slow, frustrating, process, for someone who's hyper-focused on efficiency.

Last year, Schmude heard the answer. 

"It's reading things that are clearly part of the building, but I didn't know what they were. Turns out there are signs hanging from the ceiling," Schmude said.

What he was hearing was the OrCam MyEye, being demonstrated in his office by Moira Williams, President of Envision Technology.

Every so often different companies come in to pitch their leading edge technology to the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.

"Accessibility is what we're all about here. With accessibility you get power, you get knowledge," IT Specialist with Blind Industries of MarylandDan Woytowitz said, sitting across from Schmude in their office.

Schmude gained freedom. He bought the device for $3,500, investing in his future.

"I'll just treat this with the same rationale as other people treat their car payments, it's a necessary life expense," Schmude said.

The tech involves a small camera, perched on a fake pair of glasses, that takes in his surroundings. A wire connects the camera to a small computer, the size of a cell phone, that processes the environment and speaks from a small black box next to his ear.

"It really specializes in identifying products and reading material," Schmude said.

It reads his mail, books, can labels in the cupboard, making not only for an easier home life but a better work life.

"People walk in your door all the time and a lot of times, they don't identify themselves, you're startled. With something like this, you can just look at them and it's going to say their name and then when they come in, if it's your boss, you're going to be ready," Williams said.

Williams said this tech helps anyone who has learning disabilities, low vision, or complete blindness. The key is, it's mobile.

Schmude particularly likes the voice speed function on the OrCam, speeding up the voice so he can process his environment nearly as fast as a seeing person.

Schmude's purchase changed not only his life, but that of 70 coworkers in his building. Curious coworkers asked how and if the tech really helped in daily life.

Schmude gave them a resounding yes, "You don't know when you're going to be called on to read something. I mean I've had it where I didn't have preparation and someone handed me a piece of paper, and if it's printed I can read it [now]."

The device cannot read handwriting yet. Schmude does have an idea on what's next, "it's not going to tell you-- hey there's a pole in front of you watch out."

Schmude didn't know his purchase would change so many lives, "I mean helping everybody else out, that is the very essence of my job."

Schmude is excited to use the translating function of the OrCam when he travels abroad in the future.