No-hands-needed smartphone to be made available for free

Individuals who are paralyzed or otherwise disabled can now be part of the digital revolution, says Sesame Phone inventor Oded Ben Dov

Sesame Enable co-founder Giora Livne uses the Sesame Phone. (Basti Hansen)
Sesame Enable co-founder Giora Livne uses the Sesame Phone. (Basti Hansen)

From now on, access to smartphone technology for the disabled is going to be a lot easier. Thanks to a joint effort with Beit Issie Shapiro and Google, Sesame Enable, the inventor of the first smartphone designed for people who are largely paralyzed, is offering a free device to anyone who needs it.

“It’s rare that an initiative can address the needs of an entire cohort,” says Sesame Enable CEO and co-founder Oded Ben Dov. “We are thrilled to improve the lives of so many people who have until now been shut out of the smartphone revolution. The Sesame Phone empowers people with limited or no use of their hands to gain independence and privacy and become digitally connected – things many of us take for granted in the digital age.”

The device is designed for individuals with ALS and other debilitating diseases, in which victims are unable to move their limbs.

Internationally recognized and the winner of major awards – including a million-dollar award presented by US cellphone firm Verizon last year – the Sesame Enable device uses voice commands and gestures – very slight ones – to control the device. The Sesame phone is a specially rigged Nexus 5 smartphone that includes the Sesame software system – an adjustment of the Nexus device’s Android operating system – which takes control of the device, with voice commands used to open up applications, make calls, etc.

For apps that usually require touch for interaction, the system uses head gestures, with users moving their head in various directions (up and down or left and right for navigation, a slight nod forward for selection, etc.).

“Our slogan is ‘touch is overrated,’ and with our device, touch is not even necessary,” said Ben-Dov. “For those who don’t have use of their limbs, this is so far the only solution that lets them use a standard smartphone, with all that means today.”

The fact that the Open Sesame solution is software-based is key to its abilities, said Ben-Dov. While there are are other enabling technologies that allow the severely disabled to use smartphones, they are either hardware-based and very expensive (in the many thousands of dollars), or limited in scope, able to control only one or two apps. By hacking the smartphone’s operating system, Ben-Dov can provide touch and gesture services throughout the device – for a lot less money that other solutions.

Usually, the device costs about $1,000 – but working with Google and Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israel-based global advocacy group for people with disabilities and special consultant to the United Nations – Sesame is offering its devices for free to disabled people in Israel. Designed by co-founders Giora Livne, a quadriplegic veteran and former electrical engineer, and computer vision expert Ben Dov, Sesame Enable has won Michael Bloomberg’s Genesis Generation Challenge (2015), the Verizon Powerful Answers Award (2014) and Nominet Trust 100 (2014).

“For the last decade I was completely dependent on the people around me to help me perform mundane tasks,” said Livne. “With the Sesame phone, I can now call my friends and family anytime, use any application without help, and use the phone to control my connected home. I am thrilled that thousands of others will now gain a new level of freedom and independence with this initiative.”

The project “marks the launch of our ‘Applicable’ program, with the goal to encourage startups like Sesame Enable to focus energy and resources on creating accessible apps,” said Jean Judes, Executive Director of Beit Issie Shapiro. “We hope this initiative will be replicated around the world. When approached us, we chose the Sesame Enable phone because smartphones allow people with disabilities to plug into every aspect of day to day life from communication to entertainment to the possibility of controlling appliances in a connected home.”

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