Startup of the Week / Sesame Enable: Touch Screens for the Disabled

Hands-free technology enables the disabled to make calls, read books or even play Angry Birds.

Aside from ubiquity, today’s smartphones and tablets generally share one feature: the touch screen, used to operate the device. However, the touch screen, which has become second nature even for small children, is problem for some - people with limited mobility.

Enter Sesame Enable, which brings hands-free technology to help the disabled control these devices by moving their heads.

It enables hands-free reading, dialing and even entering and posting information, such as a status on Facebook. You can even play Angry Birds on the phone.

The company’s goal is for any application to be usable by the disabled, without restriction.

“Our goal is to return people with disabilities to the workforce,” said Uri Keren, the company’s vice president for strategy and business development. “That’s a big goal for a small startup, but a startup needs a vision. Many people with disabilities have good speech capabilities, so if we made it possible for them to easily operate computerized systems, they could, for example, operate systems at a call center and return to the job market.”

Turning a page 
with a nod

Sesame Enable was founded in 2012 after a meeting between Oded Ben Dov, a veteran of the army’s high-tech intelligence unit 8200 and an expert in computer vision, and Giora Livne, an engineer who was paralyzed in an accident seven years ago.

Sesame Enable’s hands-free technology can allow the disabled to do things like turn a book’s pages by nodding one’s head (or waving a hand) or send an email hands-free. It has also developed a hands-free cookbook application, so you don’t have to dirty your tablet with food-stained fingers, and a virtual sheet music application that enables you to turn the pages of a score without touching it.

Sesame Enable has also made its technology available to outside developers (by packaging it as an SDK, or software development kit), so their own applications can be similarly controlled simply by integrating a few lines of code. The company’s business model is to allow its technology to be used for free in applications aimed at people with disabilities, but to charge a fee for commercial applications aimed at the general public.

Help for people 
with palsy

It is also continuing to research the needs of people with disabilities and exploring how its technology could help them. To this end, it is working with the Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Ra’anana and the Onn Special Education School, which mainly serves children with cerebral palsy, in Tel Aviv.

Keren points out that the technology is also suitable for elderly people with palsy, who can’t operate devices requiring a delicate touch.

The technology is based on processing images taken using the smartphone’s camera. The first time an application based on Sesame Enable’s technology is used, it learns to identify the object (aka, the user’s head) that will exert control. The system examines the object’s range of movement in every direction, and based on this, determines the movements that will operate the device. Then, whenever the system identifies the object that controls the device, a cursor will appear on the screen that can be moved to operate the application.

Sesame Enable’s technology supports devices using iOS and Android platforms, however devices running on Apple’s iOS don’t allow the technology to be inserted into the operating system.

Sesame Enable employs six people and is trying to raise capital. Keren estimated the European market of people with disabilities, which is the company’s primary target, at about $40 billion a year. 

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