There is a brutal reality in the world of assistive tech that hardware is pricey.
Modern digital hearing aids with new technology like sound isolation or wind-reduction, for example, can cost between £1,400 and £2,200; while today’s high-tech wheelchairs like the Whill Model C and the Carbon Black can cost up to £16,000; and the most expensive piece of visually impaired tech – the eSight glasses which claims to improve people’s vision using video magnification – costs £9,995.
In February 2018, Israeli-based OrCam Technologies completed a round of investment funding which valued the company at a whopping $1 billion. The OrCam MyEye 2.0, a revolutionary artificially-intelligent device, that can be placed on any pair of glasses, enables the wearer to read print, store signs, barcodes as well as recognise faces. It retails at £4,200 and its first model was released in 2015. OrCam has an R&D department with 200 employees, working on upgrades and improvements to the device.
The newly-appointed UK head of OrCam, Reuben Isbitsky, says he is thinking about the issue of high prices.
“It is a small market – designing a product for blind and partially sighted people, you don’t have the economies of scale in the early beginning, and you also have a lot of support infrastructure that needs to be built – testing of the product with our community – all of those things mean that products for a niche market start out expensive,” Isbitsky says.
“We are working on finding ways to make this more accessible for the people who need it most. The potential return on investment for the National Health Service to reduce things like social care cost because someone won’t need help reading the post or getting out to read a bus schedule with the use of the OrCam is huge.”
“I have been blind from birth, with braille displays, I had to be creative to find funds to pay for them, usually this involved some paperwork,” German-based Bianka Brankovic said.