Okay, so most articles that start out with three teenage boys don’t end so well but hear me out. Teenagers get a pretty bad rap but if my last articleabout a construction startup proves anything, it should be understood that young people are often intelligent, vivacious and technically inclined.
That being said, there’s no wonder that the youngest of us are amongst the most innovative, successful, compassionate and well-rounded, the founders of this next startup, VocalEyes are no exception.
Founded by three high schoolers from all around the world who met at MIT Launch, this startups focus is on benefiting those who are blind or visually impaired. This dream team is composed of Egyptian CEO, Marwan Refaat, Palestinian COO, Mahmood Alfayoumi and Indian CTO, Neil Deshmukh and together they designed their application in less than a month.
They, of course, received assistance and training during their time at MIT and also the advice of professors at Google and Microsoft but the idea was all theirs. Their app was piloted at the Perkins School for the blind in Massachusetts and currently, they’re working on adding a live recognition device which will be coming out soon.
So what is their app and what does it do? VocalEyes is a smartphone app developed to help the blind and visually impaired "visualize" objects. It works by using the phone’s camera to take pictures of objects that can then be identified by artificial intelligence.
After speaking with students and adults at the Perkins School for the Blind, where their product was initially launched, they said they realized that their biggest issues were navigating and identifying objects in the world around them. That gave them ideas on how to improve their app. Their app uses what is called a "proprietary machine learning algorithm" which is basically a recognition software that accepts the captured photograph and identifies it. The app can also read text in a similar way as well.
Sight is a gift, not a necessity. We want to help the blind navigate the world without the absence of vision holding them back.
The app is available in the Apple app store, already having over 6,000 downloads and it’s available for free so blinder and visually impaired people are able to access this technology. The app is available for iPhones and iPads and its most recent update assures that it is available in over 35 languages, has improved text recognition software and voice over button labels.
Reviews of their app are mixed but the main complaints about the app are that it crashes and often takes a while to process images, however at least the issue with the slow image processing is been said to have been fixed in this most recent update.
The app includes a talking camera, to relay information to the user, object identification, facial recognition, environment descriptions, logo and brand labeling, emotion classification, age recognition and currency recognition. VocalEyes is hoping to improve the speed issue with their new product called The Eye, which has yet to be released but will be available for pre-order soon.
The aim of The Eye is to provide quick object recognition that allows for live recognition so that the user experiences continuous feedback of their surroundings. This could eliminate problems with lag and make traversing the world with limited or no sight almost the same as experiencing the world like a sighted person, able to "see" and anticipate the environment around you.
VocalEyes is an artificial intelligence company that leverages computer vision to augment the lives of those who are blind or severely visually impaired by offering intuitive software that can identify environments, localize objects and interprets text. We strive to do so by combining open source machine learning frameworks and datasets with our proprietary algorithms. Simply put, our goal is to offer the experience of sight through sound.- LinkedIn statement
Startups like VocalEyes are living proof that the advent and proliferation of technology can and often does benefit the most vulnerable groups in society. By providing this app to the visually impaired and blind for free, they may have given someone their life back or given someone the gift of feeling safe in their surroundings or being able to take small trips themselves. The possibilities are endless and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
All three were recently nominated for the Forbes 30 by 30 list by an anonymous person and we wish them the best in the future!