Don’t touch

Oded Ben Dov (right) worked with potential phone users to develop a Smartphone that is controlled by head movements. It was developed by an Israeli startup.Photo by Basti Hansen
Oded Ben Dov (right) worked with potential phone users to develop a Smartphone that is controlled by head movements. It was developed by an Israeli startup.
Photo by Basti Hansen

As the world snaps up new apps and games for smart phones, people who can’t type on a keyboard or use a touch screen may feel left behind.

But due to the work of an Israeli start-up company, anyone with limited mobility can enjoy everything a Smart phone has to offer.

Software created by Sesame Enable lets a disabled user operate a mobile device without touching the phone. The software affords the independence not only to use a cell phone, but also to change channels on a home television and turn room lights on and off, all with a move of the head.

To turn on the phone, a user only has to say, “Open, sesame.” Once the phone has been adjusted to meet individual needs by following a few commands, the user can get his phone to do everything the smartphone is designed to do.

The cursor is controlled by head movements, explained Oded Ben Dov, cofounder of the start-up company, who was in Washington for two days, having been invited by Verizon.

The phone follows the user’s face. When that person’s head moves to the right, the cursor moves in that direction as well.

Dov, a tech entrepreneur, was challenged to create this software almost four years ago when he received a call from Giora Livne, who had become a quadriplegic after an accident. Livne asked Dov, whom he had never met, to create a way for him to use a smartphone like everyone else.

Livne’s “neck movements are very, very limited,” so making the phone work for him proved it could work for many people with disabilities, Dov said. “We almost couldn’t see him moving” as they worked together on the software, Dov said.

Now this man who had been a naval officer for 15 years in the Israel Defense Forces can catch up on the latest technology despite his disability.

“It turns out he lives down the block from my parents. Israel is very small. You get that a lot,” Dov said.

The two men, with the help of a few other staff members, went on to launch the new phone on a trial basis to 50 users last May. The cost is $700, including the phone.

The company was funded by a combination of many sources, including the Office of the Chief Scientist in Israel, a private investor, the Ruderman Family Foundation, a $1 million prize from Verizon’s Powerful Answers contest and a crowdsourcing campaign.

Another $100,000 came as a result of winning a Genesis Generation Challenge.

Dov said he is excited about what his new phone may mean to someone unable to move by himself.

“There is really a need for this,” Dov said of the software that can be incorporated into any phone using the Android system. He would like to make it available to Apple users as well; those negotiations are in the very early stages, said Dov, adding that work would have to be a collaboration with Apple.

Many of the phone’s trial users spend most of their day in bed or in a wheelchair. Being able to use a smartphone opens up the technological world to them, he said.

“The stories we get [from users] are already fulfilling. I could go to my grave a happy man knowing I have helped the world,” said the 34-year-old.

Dov said Livne’s encouragement propelled him throughout the process. Once Dov realized how life- changing a mobile device would be for his new partner, he dove in. As they worked together, Dov learned “to see past [Livne’s] disability and see the person in front of me, not the [wheel]chair,” he said.

About a year from now, when suggestions by the current users are incorporated into the software, Dov hopes to market the phone worldwide and have thousands of users.

That seems realistic, said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO at RespectAbility USA. As baby boomers age, they will lose mobility but will still want their technology, she said. “Clearly there is a market, and the market is going to grow.”

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