Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Tap and Smart Textiles | Ran Poliakine | www.tapwithus.com
App: Tiny Cards www.BridgingApps.org
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RAN POLIAKINE: Hi, this is Ron Poliakine, from Tap System. I’m the cofounder of the company, and this is Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Welcome to episode number 274 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 26, 2016.
Today I have a fascinating conversation with Ron Poliakine who is with Tap Systems. They’ve created a new smart textile that can be a computer keyboard or a mouse or an interface to your texting mobiledevice, all kinds of cool stuff. Also our colleagues at BridgingApps spend time talking to us about an app called Tiny Cards.
We hope you’ll check out our website. You can find it at www.eastersealstech.com, or send us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line. We love your questions, look to hear your feedback. The number is 317-721-7124.
You ever wonder how to handle a dual channel headset when you need to use a screen reader and a telephone at the same time? Have you ever wondered how to deal with shutting off a power switch when you are away from home and aren’t there to do that? Are you a freelance writer who would like to know what kind of advance writing tools work well with your screen reader? Or have you ever wondered what’s up with those smart watches and wearable technologies? Where are they going, what’s working, what’s not, and what does that mean for folks with disabilities? Those are some of the questions we found on the most recent episode of ATFAQ. Check out that podcast at ATFAQshow.com, or wherever you get your podcast.
Each week, one of our partners tells us what’s happening in the area in the world of apps, so here’s an App Worth Mentioning.
AMY BARRY: This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps and this is an app worth mentioning. This week’s app is called Tiny Cards: Flashcards by Duo Lingo. Tiny Cards is an awesome new flash card app, great for typically developing students, and also users diagnosed with learning disabilities. This app makes memorization fun. Yes, fun. The app uses spaced repetition and other smart learning techniques to help users remember you new material. You can pick from thousands of educational topics or create your own. A modern twist on the traditional flashcards, Tiny Cards is specifically designed to help kids focus, stay on task, and help with processing written information.
To use the app, simply set up an account with your email and choose from 11 categories that you think you might need to work on. The areas focus on science, social studies, nouns, math, foreign language, and lots more. Or you can create your own deck. Another feature is trending decks, which are popular decks that other people are using. Tiny Cards does require that the user be able to read, or they will need someone to read the cards to them. It is constantly challenging making users want to go back, but BridgingApps really enjoys this app. It’s totally free, highly recommended, and Tiny Cards is available at the iTunes Store and is compatible with iOS devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit BridgingApps.org.
WADE WINGLER: Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of different technology interfaces. Some of those have faded into obscurity, but some of them have become staples in the world of assistive technology. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen an interface quite like this. I’m kind of pumped and intrigued to see what this is going to turn into. It’s fascinating stuff. As I I was learning about our topic today and our guest, I found a new term called smart fabric or smart textiles and was just intrigued with that. Ron Poliakine is a well-known tech entrepreneur, and is going to join us today to talk about one of his new projects, Taps. First and foremost, Ron, welcome to the show and thank you for being with us today.
RAN POLIAKINE: Hi, thank you very much. Very happy to be here today.
WADE WINGLER: So Ron, I think some of our listeners might be aware of your tech entrepreneurship story, but some of them might not be. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and history as a technology entrepreneur?
RAN POLIAKINE: Sure. I’ve been doing technology for the last 25 years. I think in many of our inventions, we are trying to create a bridge between technology and use case. We are not going after the easy stuff. You may know of the Power Mat. This is a wireless charging technology that we started 10 years ago. Today if you go to any Starbucks in the US, you can charge your phone wirelessly with our technology. That’s one of these innovations we brought to life. The concept there was to take a surface like a table or wooden counter and just turn it into something more to let people expect that the surface will give them something else.
Another innovation that’s already in the hospitals in the US is called Well Sense. This is a smart textile that looks just like any fabric, only we integrated technology that enables caregivers to see what’s really going on underneath the patient in order to prevent things like bedsores and other things that may affect their hands. In that scenario, we took textile and created some technology in it, and the caregivers in the hospitals expect this textile to give them more.
We are also dealing with some water purification technology, trying to bring it into areas where water is not clean and purified. Many other innovations , basically looking at very basic needs of people today, trying to form some kind of interface that will bridge the gap between technology and the consumers in a way that was never done before. That’s really what we are doing also with the Tap System which is our latest innovation. Tap System is another form of communication that basically allows anyone to communicate with a virtual domain simply by using a smart textile. I can tell the audience more if you want it.
WADE WINGLER: First of all, I completely agree, you’re not taking on the easy stuff. These are high reaching technical goals, and I’m impressed you are working on them. I can’t wait to see what comes out of that. I see in the world of assistive technology that wearable technology is becoming a big deal. I’ve got to say that smart textiles and fabric is something that’s new to me. I love your hospital example. Are there other examples of smart fabric that people might know about or that you can explain to us?
RAN POLIAKINE: In our incubator, what we’ve created is pretty much it for now. I think overall, smart technologies and IoT [Internet of Things] devices are – there are two trends. One is to turn any fabric into something that can give you more by integrating semiconductors and all kinds of sensors that are available today at very low cost and can be overcoated in a simple molding process. The other side of it is to connect everything through either Bluetooth or NFC or Wi-Fi into an IoT in a way you can do something with this information. I think those trends are really hot these days because everybody is talking about IoT and now the question is how you connect things into those IoT modems. These can be things that are not necessarily computer or cell phone but in reality everything, so furniture, fabric, what you wear, what you’re laying down over. This is I think what’s going on. Over time, I expect more and more wearable items will give more, and actually consumers will expect to get more from smart textiles, plus it will all be connected into some database that can end up in an application or communication device or simply data that can be aggregated and mean something if finalized correctly.
WADE WINGLER: Thank you for explaining that a little bit because I think that helps. When we talk about the Internet of things and smart fabrics, you are right, it’s so open and there are so many opportunities. I’m glad you’re doing something like Tap to carve out one of the examples. Let’s get down to that. Tell me a little bit about Tap. How does it work? What does it do?
RAN POLIAKINE: At the end of the day, before we talk about Tap specifically, I would want to talk about the way consumers or we people are interacting with computers in the last 30 years. I think the more computer science is evolving and getting more data, the more we need to create an input method that will be more sophisticated.
So I think if we go back to the early days of computers, it was always about what the output method, which is how much CPU or calculating power the computer has and what is the ability to display text and images on the screen. On the other side, there is an input method which started with a keyboard and then mouse and all kinds of gestures. If you take it forward, the ultimate interface between man and machine would be that you simply think about something and you can do it. Now it sounds pretty much like science fiction, but if you think about it, the biggest computer ever is what you have in your brain. The CPU of the human brain is by far more sophisticated in power than any supercomputer today. If you think about what you think in your brain and then your hand as a tool to do stuff, what can you do with your hand? With your hand you can make a punch in the air or you can take a hammer and a little nail and punch the head of the nail. Then what you can do, you can write a beautiful letter which integrates minute movements but also a translation of what you think into words.
What we are trying to do with Tap is translating everything you can do with your hand in a seamless way into the virtual world. This is very much relevant when you see what’s coming up in the areas of VR and AR and MR. The most sophisticated output methods are out there from large screens to 360 cameras. There is a need to include things in a way simulating more and more the capabilities of the brain/hand coordination.
Now what we’ve done is our technology is very simple. We took a fabric and we integrated into the fabric minute sensing elements that can trace very accurately the movement of your hands. Those sensors can actually track movement and speed, but not only that. They can also sense and track very minute movement of it each of the fingers in any combination in a way that allows us to record and to transmit in a seamless way any data, information into actions or text or movement into the virtual world.
So how does it work? If you have a smart watch or if you’re on the go and you want text input, with the smart textile that you put on your hand, you can simply type a combination of fingers. With that you actually allow in system to receive a text or action seamlessly without the need to go through either a screen that you need to touch and type or a keyboard or any other method. Just like your hand in the real world, you can move your hand and it will track it, or you can write a very fine kind of letter and that will track it. The way we do that is by developing not only the sensing system but also the very quick method that will take the five things you have and create 31 combinations that you can do with your fingers that represents either text in the English language or any language or music notes or actions that you can take in a game. That’s what we basically developed. We believe the more users are going to be on the go and would like to interact with different screens, in other words output device, the more natural it will become to them to simply do whatever they do in the world real world, which is just moving their hands, only with Tap System which is smart textile solution, it will enable a very seamless input into whatever application they are using.
WADE WINGLER: My eyes are big here as a listen to you describe this because it just makes a ton of sense that this kind of interface would work well. As I was preparing for the interview, I watched interviews videos of people using the Tap device to send text messages and interact with those kinds of things. It sounds like the architecture is pretty open and you can use it for a lot of different communications, a lot of different things.
RAN POLIAKINE: Yes. Like I mentioned before, our smart textile is connected via low powered Bluetooth. That’s a very simple and open source kind of communication method. Also the way we identify ourselves in front of any device is HID or a code which you can identify the hand as a wireless keyboard or as a wireless mouse or a gaming controller. It’s all open source and very seamless into the different applications people are using today. That’s how simple it is. Just to touch upon what you can do with it, and this is where I think it’s getting very interesting in the context of the show. The first thing you can do is you can input any text and you can activate an application on your smartphone or computer without needing to actually look at the screen. In some ways, if you touch trust your hand and you know what combination of fingers you’re using on any surface, on your pants or a table or your head – I’m sure if you’ve seen the video, then you’ve seen that – then you don’t need a screen really to get feedback. You can get audio feedback or just trust your hands and input any text without really having the need of sitting in front of a screen. That’s very important for people that are on the go without an ability to look at the screen or people that simply do not need a screen in order to get feedback that they input the right message.
Number one is for anyone, but also visually impaired community, you don’t need to look at the screen in order to input methods. You don’t need to touch the screen. You can activate any smartphone just like any other computing device without any limitation simply because you can trust your hand. That’s one area where I think the Tap System is very powerful and in some ways is addressing the entire community including visually impaired users. That’s number one.
Now if you take it to the other extreme use case, this is in the VR area. I don’t know if you have used the virtual reality headset. What is happening is basically you see the screen in front of you, you have something funny on your hand, and to the extent you need to input text, you cannot do it. You can simply not do it because you don’t see anything. What if you have this smart textile on your hand that you can trust? Now you went to the process of learning how to input text message or action, and you just do it, trusting the hand without the need to see anything other than the feedback you see on the feet VR screen. We believe this is a very strong use case where the need is pretty easy to explain.
Taking it forward to the next level, I’m sure you know that Intel has this vision that people go with a little CPU in their pocket and they will interact with different screens on the go. I think what we do is exactly fitting to this vision because basically you can interface with any screen without the need for a keyboard, without the need to sit down in front of a desk, and simply trusting your hand, you can create an interaction between you, the human, and the machine which is represented by any screen around you. It can be the screen of the smart phone, TV, VR headset, AR glasses, and anything that is computerized. The interface is universal. It’s your hand. This is what we like very much about the Tap System because it is going back to nature in a way. You simply need to put the smart fabric on your hand and that’s it, you’re connected, nothing more, nothing less.
WADE WINGLER: As you are describing these use cases and how it works, obviously the assistive technology person in me has tons of ideas about how this might be helpful. It’s terribly exciting stuff. A couple of quick questions as we start to round out the interview here. Tell me briefly about the learning process. How do you learn how to use this interface? It’s a little different. How long does it take to become proficient?
RAN POLIAKINE: Let’s start from the basic specification. You mentioned for a second that your hand can start with a mouse, just a mouse for a computer. In that sense, you’re doing exactly what you’re doing with a mouse, only your moving the hand without anything and double-clicking the one finger and the right-click would be another finger. That’s intuitive. That’s no problem. The same with any navigation that has two use gestures, any gestures you can do with gaming or controllers, you can do it, and this is pretty intuitive.
When you want to input text, we provide you with a very simple system. It’s a little game that you go through some logic. If you look at it, it’s very simple. Single finger taps represent the vowels, so A, E, I, O, U, the very simple five combinations. Two fingers together present a different set of letters, like N TLS. What we’ve learned is within 20 minutes of practice, you can memorize those letters. If you really practice for more than 20 minutes a day for a few days, you’ll be able to text quite fast and type in quite a speedy way without any problem. Another thing that we’ve learned, and we actually presented – part of our team is visually impaired persons. If you are a visually impaired person, you are likely to learn it much faster. Within minutes, you know it. You play the game once and that’s it. We experience pretty quick learning curve. We believe within a few hours of usage, you are done for life. You memorized it and you have muscle memory to use it. If you are visually impaired person, that’s even much simpler.
WADE WINGLER: That makes sense. As you’re describing here, I find my fingers tapping on the table trying to practice even though I don’t have the thing. Obviously I’m interested in what this looks like and how I could try it. What stage of development is this? What platforms will it work on? What will it cost? Is it available? Talk about those things.
RAN POLIAKINE: The technology is ready. What we want it to do in order to make sure we are aiming right [Inaudible] public data in Silicon Valley in the last few months. Now it’s time for us to go to mass production. We are expecting that within the first half of 2017, those products will be available to the general public. We do have quite a large waitlist on our website. Those consumers that signed already would be the first ones to enjoy this experience. We’ll be in a position to ship hopefully about a million units within the first half of 2017. Those units are going to go for both visually impaired community, which we believe it’s a perfect fit for them as well as general usage of tablets, smartphone, and of course the VR geek environments.
WADE WINGLER: Any idea what cost might look like to the consumer?
RAN POLIAKINE: We are talking about $119 for consumers.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. This is a fascinating conversation. I’m sure some of our listeners are going to want to learn more and watch the video and follow this journey and know when the product is available. Where should they go online so that they can keep in touch?
RAN POLIAKINE: The website is tapwithus.com. Then if you go to our YouTube channel, you can see many of the demonstrations of different environments. Look for tapwithus.com.
WADE WINGLER: Ron Poliakine is the cofounder of Tap Systems, a tech luminary, and has been a great guest on our show today. Thank you so much for being with us.
RAN POLIAKINE: Thank you, Wade.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.