Intel to Invest $15m in Israeli Startup's Smartglasses

OrCam's product helps blind and visually-impaired customers by using audio feedback to relay visual information.

OrCam

Two days after Facebook acquired Oculus VR, a maker of virtual-reality glasses for gaming for $2 billion, Intel Capital is planning to invest $15 million into the Israeli startup OrCam, a maker smartglasses used to help the visually impaired and blind, TheMarker has learned.

OrCam’s system uses a small wearable computer that is clipped onto a pair of glasses. With the help of a five-megapixel camera, the computer uses audio feedback to relay visual information that the user can’t see. Priced at $2,500, the device can read text, and with the help of the user it can be taught to recognize faces and objects.

OrCam’s system is in many ways similar to Google Glass, albeit with a much narrower application. It will likely play a role in Intel’s healthcare division as well as in its Perceptual Computing department.

Orcam was founded by Ziv Aviram and Amnon Shashua, who are also the founders of the collision-prevention-technology maker Mobileye, which raised $400 million and is now reportedly considering an initial public offering on Wall Street. Both startups are grounded in the same basic technology.

The Intel investment may becoming on the heels of Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR, but the acquisition was made as part of Perceptual Computing's wider efforts to develop emotion-tracking, gesture-reading cameras. Likewise, the investment represents a win for Intel's sizeable healthcare and life sciences division.

Intel Capital, the venture capital investment arm of the giant U.S. semiconductor maker, formed last year a $100 million fund last June to invest in startups falling under the purview of its Perceptual Competing project. Also last year, Intel spent $40 million to acquire the Israeli startup Omek Interactive which sells gesture-recognition technology used in electronics, cars, video games and casinos. 

Omek is not the only Israeli company active in the field. Given Imaging, the maker of a swallow-able camera for diagnosing digestive ailments, was sold to Ireland’s Covidien earlier this year. The 3D-sensor company Prime Sense was bought by Apple for $360 million last November and iOnRoad was bought by Harman, the U.S. maker of audio equipment.