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Horus: the invisible made audible

Slate and stylus, thick yellow paper... young blind people have probably never even used them! Technology has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last decades, so much so that having multiple devices such as iPhones, laptops and MP3 players has become the norm for many of them. The use of navigation systems, too, is getting increasingly popular, as it enables blind people to travel independently without having to learn the route in advance. The use of smartphones and apps has also radically changed their way of life: they can now arrange their holiday (train, flight and hotel) completely autonomously, or take a picture of an object to know its colour, read its label etc.

Horus is the latest example of this unstoppable technological revolution. It's a wearable device that uses GPU-accelerated computer vision, deep learning and sensors to process, analyze and describe images to blind people. In particular, the device can perform:

  • face recognition: Horus can learn the faces of new people and put them in a sort of database, so as to notify the user when he meets them again;
  • mobility assistance: Horus alerts the user of the presence of obstacles along his path, by generating 3D sounds with different intensity and pitch depending on their position and distance;
  • object recognition: by rotating an object in front of the cameras, Horus will learn its appearance and shape; even when two objects are very similar, the device will recognize them from different angles thanks to 3D perception. Audible cues will help the user to frame the object properly;
  • scene and photos description: Horus gives a short description of what the cameras see, be it a postcard, a landscape or a picture;
  • text recognition: Horus is able to recognize printed text, even on non-flat surfaces. It helps the user to correctly frame the page through audible cues, and it starts reading when the page is in place.

How does it work?

Horus consists of a wearable headset with two cameras and a pocket unit slightly bigger than a smartphone, containing a very powerful processor and a long-lasting battery. The two units are connected by a thin wire, and each feature can be activated thanks to some very easy to recognize buttons, located both on the headset and the pocket unit. However, Horus understands when information is particularly relevant or urgent and automatically speaks it out. It currently supports Italian, Japanese and English, but the Horus team plans to quickly expand the range of languages.

Another amazing thing about the device is that it uses bone-conduction headphones, which are not in the user's ears but in front of them. That means that they don't obstruct his hearing like normal headphones, and that he can still hear his surroundings whilst getting the information he needs. Imagine how useful that can be when crossing a street! It is also worth noting that such a feature is of paramount importance for people with a hearing impairment.

Who made this possible?

Horus Technology, the name of which refers to the Egyptian god usually depicted as falcon, is a Genoese company set up in July 2014 by Saverio Murgia and Luca Nardelli, two engineering students who developed a great interest for robotics applied to tools for the blind: that's why they wrote their dissertation on an artificial visual system for robots enabling to avoid obstacles through cameras rather than sensors. They came up with the idea two years ago after meeting a blind person on the street who asked for help finding a bus stop. The long conversation they had with him made them realize how simple gestures, such as crossing the street or reading the label on a product, can pose serious problems to blind people.

In 2015, the start-up company was granted a $900.000 loan by 5Lion Holdings, an American company that invests in innovative firms with high growth potential. Thanks to this generous amount of money, Horus Technology will be able to carry through with the remaining research and finish up the product, as well as widen its staff. Moreover, at 2016 GPU Technology Conference, held between 4th and 7th April in Silicon Valley, NVDIA awwarded Horus Technology and 5 more start-up companies the first Social Innovation Award, in the framework of the Emerging Companies Summit. The prize awarded to the Italian company was worth more than $550.000.

When will it be possible to buy Horus?

Horus is expected to be launched in Italy and the UK at the end of 2016, expanding to the U.S. and the rest of Europe in the following year. The device should cost around $1.500, which amounts to about €1.400.

Visually impaired users can sign up to the waiting list, to ensure to be among the first to be able to buy Horus once available. People on the waiting list may also be selected to be part of the Horus Early Access programme, which would entitle them to:

  • buy Horus before its public release with a great discount;
  • regularly keep in touch with the Horus team, in order to give feedback on their ongoing experience with the device;
  • contribute to the improvement of Horus through their suggestions and feedback.