Dina Farag

EyeSense: Applying AI for a more autonomous life

It is impossible for people with fully-functioning eyesight to truly understand the ways in which a loss of vision affects one’s life. To make assumptions about the experiences of those with vision loss would be a disservice to the myriad of individual lives it affects, but thanks to the advancements of artificial intelligence, there are new technologies being developed to help encourage those very people who are blind or visually impaired to live a more autonomous life.   

In an age where artificial intelligence is gaining momentum, new technologies are on the rise to help and encourage blind people to live a more autonomous life.

In this interview we talked to the team of Rockstart’s 2016 Digital Health startup EyeSense.

Founder brothers Ahmed ElMahmoudy and Amr ElMahmoudy joined forces with Joanna Marczak to create an artificial intelligence app that helps blind and visually impaired users to discover their surroundings while at the same time enhancing human-to-human interaction. Founder Ahmed, co-founder Amr, and head of marketing and public relations, Joanna, aim at providing an online community platform that guides blind and partially-sighted users, gives support, encourages mutual interaction, and shares insights and knowledge.

The startup was created by mother company ID Labs, a company based in Egypt which aspires to empower humans with advanced tools that enhance interactive communication. ID Labs

creates interactive media solutions using AI. The initial idea for EyeSense came from a research project designed to identify and control connected IOT devices.This project gave the team the inspiration to create EyeSense.

“When we crystallized the results of the previous project, it was an automatic decision to go into this field because we saw that there was a huge need for digital solutions that can detect surroundings, objects and people,” Joanna explained. “The blind community and people with visual impairment do not have so many visual solutions so far. We knew that EyeSense could help them enhance their life experience and be more independent.”

The app itself is constructed in an easily understandable way. The EyeSense camera is pointed towards an object of interest, and the users can then listen to the app that identifies the object. The reason EyeSense is considered an Artificial Intelligence app is because it uses convolutional neural networks, has the ability to easily “learn” new objects and recognize them from many different viewpoints in real time, with no need for an internet connection.

EyeSense has been successfully working in co-creation with a group of end users which provided waves of testing and creating specific app features. Utilizing the user feedback, EyeSense is currently working on a version available for smartphones.

“Our solutions will enable you to pursue a joyful life with more independence. At EyeSense we believe that fulfilling the human needs should remain the centre of innovation.”  

Joanna clarified that EyeSense ultimately aims to make the user feel more independent in unknown environments. There is little AI technology on the market that is advanced enough to make a real difference in someone’s life.

“If you talk to anybody who is blind or visually impaired, it’s very basic feedback that they provide you with,” she said. “They want to be able to see what is happening in their surrounding. Of course they depend a lot on their sense of hearing, but […] they would like to know more about their surroundings in cases where they don’t have audial feedback.”

Although EyeSense is predominantly targeting the community of blind and visually impaired people, the startup also believes that its solution can add value to people with mild cognitive impairment and dementia. This group of people faces challenges recalling the name of an object or a person.

“EyeSense uses the latest state of the art of Artificial Intelligence to enable the user to identify people, objects and places.”

The design philosophy behind EyeSense lies in the ability to personalize each user’s experience, and to enhance human-to-human interaction. This includes detecting general faces and emotions within the app, but also the faces of friends and family members. The app will be released soon on the App store.

In order to advance their app more efficiently, Joanna and Ahmed decided to join Rockstart’s Digital Health program.

“We wanted to give speed to our vision,” Joanna said. “We really believe that EyeSense has a revolutionary concept that can have global impact. It’s not something that can only be applied to the Dutch market. Once the solution is ready to launch, it is applicable to the whole world. If you look at the data about the numbers of blind and visually impaired people, there are about 285 million people who are visually impaired worldwide, not including the people suffering from early symptoms of dementia who could also really make use of our software. The software is free and after the Digital Health Demo Day in March, EyeSense revealed a breakthrough hardware device that will be announced later this year.

The founders at EyeSense are aware that having to hold one’s smartphone and point it at things and people may not be optimal in some scenarios. The wearable device comes with an integrated camera and operates on the artificial intelligence algorithms.

Joanna explains that, “it is a huge motivation to see that it’s not only us who believe in our vision, but that others also recognize the value and are willing to help us achieve what we set out to do in the first place.” As much as one might be convinced of a startup idea, Joanna and Ahmed recommend other startups to join Rockstart’s accelerator programs.

“You are exposed to so much feedback and advice, it’s always valuable to have feedback from different experienced entrepreneurs to expand your horizons,” Joanna said. “Since working at Rockstart, the doors have been much more open for us, and the level of networking is very high. You can achieve a lot more if you’re working with Rockstart and make use of the mentors and connections that come with the affiliation.”

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