As an avid reader my entire life, it is hard for me to even fathom not being able to read with ease. I never thought about having difficulty when it even came to simple tasks like reading the menu at a restaurant. Working at Yissum, though, has introduced me to technologies that are helping people around the world have the opportunity to read, see, and communicate.
The specific technology I’m talking about is OrCam. As part of my internship, I was once again whisked away to a spinoff company, based on the technology created at Hebrew University. This time the company was just around the corner, but the concept was truly out of this world. OrCam is one of the coolest technologies I think I’ve ever seen in my life.
During our visit, we sat with Rafi Fischer, the Public & Media Relations Director at OrCam, who passionately showed off this incredible technology. Orcam has created a wearable device that when you point and aim at words, it collects data, recognizes the context, and then informs the person by reading it back to them. It’s the only device in the world to use natural gestures and it has 25 languages (and adding more as we speak!).
Not only does it read words on paper but it can also recognize text on screens, various money notes, and even faces! Faces! I’m not sure you can fathom how cool it was when Rafi Fischer gave us the live demonstration of OrCam MyEye and OrCam Read. He snapped the ‘MyEye’ device onto his glasses, pointed it at me, and programmed it to recognize my face, saving my name. Throughout the meeting if he looked in my direction, the device would say my name. Think about how valuable that is for a person that can’t see? How would they know if I am still in the room without it? The device is also a convenient size; about the size of your pinky and super light. I know I’ve spoken a lot about this product but, personally, I can’t help but just be in awe of how amazing it is. Their technology is already being used around the world and will have a huge impact on those that struggle to see on a daily basis. Seeing (no pun intended) how research and ideas start in a lab, in this case at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and become applied science — commercialized to actually make a difference, is one of the most exciting parts of my marketing intern experience.
Another week of learning and working in the tech transfer world and I was off to another sector in the field. Many college students might know it well: cannabis. Only this time I was learning about the plant, it’s applied value, and the cutting-edge research being done at the Hebrew University in their Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research. In fact, during this visit, I learned that Israel is even known as the Cannabis Nation for their outstanding research, clinical trials, and drug development in healthcare. This time we stayed on campus at Hadassah Ein Kerem to meet Prof. Yossi Tam, one of the head cannabis researchers in the world.
His story is one of open-mindedness. He initially started off studying to become a dentist (which he wanted to be since he was 6-years-old, deciding after a visit). During the time of his Masters, he became interested in the pharmacology of cannabinoids. He became focused on solving clinical problems to understand how drugs and compounds worked. He asked how cannabis can affect the endocannabinoid system and contribute to the development or reversal of certain diseases.
While fascinating, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a negative stigma around his research as cannabis has been regarded as a more ‘taboo’ subject in the past. Apparently my boss thought the same thing and asked him just that. His answer was surprising as he said it was actually the opposite effect: it attracts and engages people, whether it be for research, adult/recreational use, or medicinal use. He then also expressed how “it’s the best work ever. I wake up in the morning with an idea, and as a scientist, I can do it.” This is another example of what I mentioned in my prior blog post: if you enjoy what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life.
Like the previous podcasts we recorded, we asked about giving advice to the future scientists of the world. He advised to leave all options open for yourself and to explore opportunities. “In life you get to learn something and then get to a checkpoint of which path you will choose. Once you open up possibilities and explore some of them, it will allow you to change and create your own path for a career, a lifetime. Don’t regret but learn from the past and use it in the future.”
Looking back at both of these visits, I can’t help but marvel at the accomplishments this amazing country has made and how it continues to own the name of Startup Nation. The new cutting-edge technology and research is always something to be in awe of and how any one can say that Israel is anything but an amazing country in this sense is beyond me. Their constant want for understanding has improved the world one hundred times over and will continue to do so as the years progress without a doubt. From cherry tomatoes (which were actually commercialized right here at Hebrew University!), to Waze, to the game rummikub, Israel is constantly coming up with ways to help improve our quality of life, and for that, we should be forever grateful.