Intel Reportedly Invests $15 Million in Smartglasses Startup

OrCam's technology to help visually impaired people fits in with the chip maker's efforts around wearable devices and perceptual computing.

Intel reportedly is taking another step forward in the wearable computing device market by investing $15 million in a company that makes a small camera that can clipped onto a pair of glasses to aid people who are visually impaired.

The news of the investment in OrCam comes just days after Facebook announced it was spending $2 billion for virtual reality technology maker Oculus VR and Intel said it had bought Basis Science, which makes a health tracker device that is worn on the wrist.

According to news site Haaretz, Intel Capital—the chip maker's investment arm—is planning to invest in the Israeli startup, which makes a small computing device that includes a 5-megapixel camera. The smart camera is affixed to the frame of glasses, and can interpret what the user wants by recognizing what the person is pointing at.

For example, the reader can point to specific articles, paragraphs, signs or labels on consumer products, and the OrCam will start reading it aloud. It also can read text on a computer or phone, according to the company. It also can recognize products, money and credit cards. OrCam plans to bring other features to the device, including the ability to recognize places, colors and faces. The camera is attached to a small earpiece, and links to a base unit that is smaller than a typical eyeglass case that can fit into a pocket or be clipped to a belt.

The system sells for $2,500 and currently is only available in the United States and in English. More languages and regions will be added in the future, according to the company.

The device fits in with Intel's "perceptual computing" strategy, where company officials envision a time when users control their computing devices—from PCs to smartphones to other devices—hand gestures or voice commands, an idea being pursued by other tech companies, including Apple and Microsoft.

Intel has been building out its capabilities around perceptual computing for the past couple of years, including releasing its Perceptual Computing Software Development Kit in 2012 to help encourage developers to build up an ecosystem around the idea. In addition, the company last year bought Omek Interactive, which made middleware that developers could use to put gesture recognition and tracking interfaces into their applications. Also last year, Intel Capital created a $100 million fund to invest in startups that develop technology that fits under the chip maker's perceptual computing vision.

Intel has been making a significant push into the wearable device market, which is generating a lot of interest from a wide range of tech vendors, from Google and its Google Glass headset to smartwatches from the likes of Samsung and Qualcomm. Berg Insight analysts said shipments of wearable devices will grow from 8.3 million units in 2012 to more than 64 million units by 2017.

Intel in September 2013 introduced the Quark family of small systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), which are smaller and more energy-efficient than its Atom platform and are aimed at wearable devices and the Internet of things.