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Artificial vision with facial recognition gets avid but meager attention

Artificial vision with facial recognition gets avid but meager attention

The global market for assistive artificial vision technology is small, funded largely on a shoestring and benefits in no small measure from the efforts of some governments to better the lives of visually impaired citizens.

A good example is Envision, a Dutch company grafting its biometric AI product onto Google’s enterprise edition Glass wearable. Envision’s employees could sit around a single conference table, and it has scared up just €1.8 million (US$1.9 million).

All of its cash infusions have come in two seed rounds. Investors have been individuals and a few funds, and the only big name there is the ABN AMRO Fund, according to Crunchbase.

In March, Envision executives announced the features of its prosthetic vision software to include updated optical character recognition and text reading with contextual intelligence. They also opened the product to third-party development, which likely will accelerate the addition of useful but niche functions such as indoor and outdoor navigation.

This is in addition to existing capabilities such as the extraction of various information, including handwriting, from images and speaking it to wearers. Facial recognition can spot and announce people based on live and stored images. The software also speaks more than 60 languages.

A video showing people with impairments using the product is here.

Envision put the same capabilities, including facial recognition, in a phone app available by subscription.

With millions of people with impaired sight, there is a market for such devices, but addressing it right now is not a big revenue play. In fact, it is more like charity.

According to Verified Market Research, the biggest sectors for this industry are enterprises and social organizations, schools for the blind, personal use and hospitals, in that order. The biggest growth is expected from enterprises and social organizations.

Market analyzer Fior Markets, in a 2020 report, estimates that annual market revenue will have grown to $6.57 billion in 2025, up from $3.4 billion in 2017. That is a relatively tame 8.74 percent compounded annual growth.

And those figures cover all assistive products including physical magnifiers, the biggest selling of the group. Digital glasses are second.

Down that list are implantable stimulators like the intracortical visual prosthesis created by Illinois Institute of Technology researchers and now in a phase one feasibility study.

The product is less about prostheses than it is about artificial vision, according to Philip Troyk, who heads up Illinois Tech’s Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering. He also is CEO of chip supplier Sigenics.

A wireless module getting a signal from an external sensor would stimulate the brain’s vision centers to create at least crude representations of the visual world without first passing through an eye.

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