Walking down the street now-a-days gives us scenes with heads tilted down and fingers occupied. Everyone is busy with their smartphones. Companies endorse about their smooth capacitive touchscreens and GUI designed for hassle free use. But one of the biggest frustrations for the disabled community is the technology being inept for them to use it.
But now, here comes the first smartphone, which has been truly built for them, by them.
Oded Ben Dov, CEO of a start-up based out of Israel called Sesame Enable, appeared on television demonstrating a new video game that users can control merely by moving their head. Shortly after the event, Ben Dov received a call from a complete stranger who just happened to see this TV appearance. At first he was skeptical about the call and was confused whether it was actually genuine, but he kept on listening.
The man on the other line was an Electrical Engineer and a former Israeli navy commander by the name of Giora Livne, who had been quadriplegic (paralysis caused by injury that results in partial or total loss of limbs, meaning both sensation and control are lost) for the past 7 years. Livne asked to Ben Dov – “Could you make a smartphone that I could use?”
It’s been 2 years since that phone call, and Ben Dov has done just that.
The Sesame Phone is a first-of-its-kind completely hands-free smartphone, exclusively designed for people who are suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – characterized by muscle weakening resulting in difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing), spinal cord injuries and other disabilities that prevent hands and arms to function properly.
Strictly speaking, it is a Google Nexus 5 powered by head-tracking technology, customized to include facial recognition capabilities. Users can enable the app by saying “Open Sesame” (khul-jaa sim sim! Nostalgia :’) which opens up a windows that calibrates the app by capturing key points on the user’s face.
The basic software uses the phone’s front camera and behind-the-scenes computer vision algorithms and consists a desktop-like cursor (a virtual finger) that floats over the screen, allowing people to click on apps with the need of using their hands. Users can slightly tilt their head in 4 basic directions to navigate the cursor. When the cursor stops moving, a small menu appears allowing the user to click, swipe, drag or exit.
STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
Ben Dov, during a demonstration at WIRED’s office in Manhattan, used the Sesame Phone to open Chrome, and even made what seemed like a telepathic call to his wife in Israel. More surprising, a young tester even used the phone to play Angry Birds for the first time.
That being said, the phone repeatedly crashed during the demo, and while people like Livne can use it at the moment, the CEO believes that there much left to work upon to ensure the device works for a variety of disabilities.
The Sesame Phone is currently priced at $1,000, however considering the uniqueness and specialty of this device, the price tag seems more like a bargain for the users it is intended for. In addition, Livne is looking for 30 users having some or the other form of disability, who will be gifted a Sesame Phone each, as promised.
That’s the beauty of technology. While sometimes it may feel as if it can invade into our lives like it’s nobody’s business, every now and then, we do get to witness a different side of it that is worth persisting with for years to come.
By – Raunaq Singh