Nearly 300 million people around the world struggle every day to manage such tasks as crossing the road or identifying a face because they’re blind or visually impaired.
Horus Technology, winner of our first social innovation award at the Emerging Companies Summit, is trying to change that. The Milan-based startup is developing a wearable device that uses artificial intelligence and GPUs to understand the world and help blind and visually disabled people “see.”
Five other startups joined Horus on the winners podium, splitting more than $550,000 worth in prizes. (See the full list below.) Earlier in the day, Sadako Technologies, developers of a deep learning robot recycler, took home a check for $100,000 by winning a competition for young companies.
VR Showcase winner Dominic Eskofier, CEO of Realities.io, said the prize “meant the world to me,” especially when the competition was so steep. The six-month old firm develops a photographic scanning technology to capture real-world environments for virtual tours.
The annual Emerging Companies Summit gives startups an opportunity to present to potential investors, customers, industry executives and analysts.
Using Horus, a blind or visually impaired person could read a product label or a book, recognize a friend on the street, and get help navigating street crossings and obstacles. Users can also customize the device so it recognizes objects specific to their needs.
Saverio Murgia, Horus CEO and co-founder, was inspired to create the company two years ago after meeting a blind person on the street who asked for help finding a bus stop. After a long discussion, he came to realize how many tasks that are easy for people who can see are hard for those who can’t.
One of the early testers wept after trying Horus, Murgia recalled. “When you see people get emotional about your product, you realize it’s going to change people’s lives,” he said. That experience was a life-changer for Murgia as well. He soon shifted his research focus from machine vision to vision technologies for people.
The device, which is worn like a pair of headphones, uses GPU-accelerated computer vision, deep learning and sensors to process, analyze and describe images from two cameras. The headset transmits sound through the bones instead of the ear so users can hear even in a noisy situation. That also makes it useful for people who have hearing impairment. The battery and GPU are contained in a box about the size of a cell phone.
“We could not have done this work without GPUs,” Murgia said. For example, Horus can process and identify obstacles 48 times faster than would be possible with CPUs, he added.
Horus is now testing the device and plans to launch late this year in Italy and UK, expanding next year to Europe and the U.S., Murgia said. He anticipates the device will cost about $1,500.
GPUs Increasingly Used for Social Good
Judges chose Horus from among 75 young companies participating in the eighth annual Emerging Companies Summit, a feature event of the GPU Technology Conference.
“Now that we have 75 companies involved in the Emerging Companies Summit, we’ve noticed more and more are using GPUs for social good,” said Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development at NVIDIA. “We want to encourage and reward that.”
Other summit participants lauded for innovation included:
- Sensetime – developers of computer vision and AI systems for surveillance, traffic control and self-driving cars
- Tempo Quest – software as a service provider for faster, more accurate weather forecasts
- OSSO VR –a maker of a low-cost surgical simulator using commercial VR hardware
- Magic Pony – developers of a machine and computer vision application for video compression
- Intelligent Voice – speech-to-text technology and analysis of unstructured communications for compliance purposes
Realities.io, which transports people via high-fidelity VR to places they may never otherwise visit, snagged the $15,000 virtual reality award.