ATU455 – Puck with Barnabas Helmy

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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.

Show Notes:
www.getpuck.com – To learn more or purchase Puck
CES Stories: http://bit.ly/2GrIksV
http://bit.ly/2RyQy8P
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Like us on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/INDATA————————– Transcript Starts Here —————————–Barnabas Helmy:
Hi, this is Barnabas Helmy, and I’m the inventor of Puck, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to 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 individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the InData Project Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to Episode 455 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on February 14th, 2020.

Josh Anderson:
We’re very excited to have Barnabas Helmy on to talk about the Smash Toast Puck and how it can help individuals control their environment. We’re also going to talk about some of the exciting devices coming out of CES, but let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Are you looking for more podcasts to listen to? Do you have questions about assistive technology? Are you really busy and only have a minute to listen to podcasts? Well, guess what, you’re in luck, because we have a few other podcasts that you should really check out. The first one is assistive technology frequently asked questions or ATFAQ, hosted by Brian Norton, and featuring myself, Belva Smith, and a bunch of other guests. What we do is we sit around and take questions about assistive technology. Either about accommodations, about different things that are out there, or about different ways to use things. We get those questions from Twitter, online, on the phone, and in many other ways. We’re also trying to build a little bit of a community, as sometimes, believe it or not, we don’t have all the answers. So, we reach out to you to answer some of those questions and help us along. You can check that out anywhere that you get your podcast and wherever you find this podcast.

Josh Anderson:
We also have Accessibility Minute. So, Accessibility Minute is hosted by Laura Metcaf and if you’ve never heard her voice, it is smooth as silk and you should really listen to that podcast. She’s going to give you just a one minute blurb about some different kinds of assistive technology. Kind of whet your whistle a little bit and just let you know some of the new things that are out there so that you can go out and find out a little bit more about them yourself.

Josh Anderson:
So, again, check out our other shows. Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions and Accessibility Minute. Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
So, of course, this time of year, still all the great stories are coming in from CES, which is a Consumer Electronic Show out in Las Vegas. And of course we weren’t there. But that’s fine. There’s so much technology there it’s really hard to weed through all of it. But I thought we’d go through a couple of different stories that I found with just some really great tech. And we will put links to all of these stories in the show notes. But I just want to go through some of the technology that was highlighted from CES.

Josh Anderson:
One of the Best of Innovation Accessibility award winners is the OrCam Hear. Now, we’ve had folks from OrCam on here before talking about their glasses. And how they can kind of help individuals with visual impairments. And of course those are the ones that I just point at something and my little device connected to my glasses can actually read anything to me. It can also recognize faces, bar codes, many, many other things. But the OrCam Hear kind of the same sort of idea, but for individuals with a hearing impairment.

Josh Anderson:
So, this is the first AI driven, wearable, assistive technology device for people with hearing impairments. And it combines lip reading with simultaneous voice source separation. It’s about the size of a finger and is able to be operated hands-free. And it says that it’s actually able to make hearing aides smart through pioneering AI for humans. It empowers hearing impairment by identifying the person speaking through the device wearer from among multiple speakers and isolating that voice while relaying that by Bluetooth to hearing aides.

Josh Anderson:
So, I think of this as maybe some of the old kind of FM systems and things, where the individual actually has to have a microphone in order to get that information to them. But this, it says again, is completely hands-free and also works with body gestures to seamlessly select the person you want to hear. And it’s even intuitive enough to switch between speakers. It says that all this AI and everything is processed offline so you don’t have to connect to wifi or a smartphone. And that also, of course, data privacy is a big thing … So, a very, very cool device. I cannot wait to learn more about this. We’ll make sure to have someone from OrCam on to talk about this OrCam Hear and again, this story was from CES. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

Josh Anderson:
Another device highlighted in a story is over at Interesting Engineering. And it says “world’s first tablet for the blind is here.” I’d definitely say that there’s probably been a few other tablets, kind of, for the blind. I think about the Braille Note Touch and a couple of other ones. But this one talks about a device called the Tactile Pro Braille Tablet by PCT. Now this is also an Innovation Award honoree at CES. And it’s a tablet that is actually a keyboard and display for braille that interfaces through Bluetooth with smart devices.

Josh Anderson:
It does say that it runs on an Android platform. But allows you to do a lot of different stuff. Allows you to browse the internet, edit documents, play games, instant message. It also has the capability of holding over 100,000 braille books. So, it could be used as kind of an e-reader. And I don’t know if you’ve ever physically seen braille books, but it takes a lot of books, a lot of paper, a lot of information to get that. So, just being able to hold all that information in it could be really great and really just cut down on the amount of space taken up in an individual’s home.

Josh Anderson:
It does not say anything about price on here, so that’s something we definitely have to look into. But it says they have two different kinds. The Tactile Pro and the Tactile EDU. And the EDU version is particularly made for learning braille. So, there aren’t a lot of things out there to help folks learn braille. So, that would be a very cool accommodation for folks who are maybe trying to learn braille and want to use technology in order to do that.

Josh Anderson:
Another story about some of the cool things coming out of CES is Uber Gizmo’s Best of CES 2020. There’s a lot of different devices on here, not all of them of course are assistive technology. There’s a lot of gaming stuff. A lot of things like that. But a couple of things I found that were really interesting on here is the Dot Mini and Dot technology. So, this is the braille equivalent of a Pixel. It can be used to create interactive and programmable braille displays. It says this technology has been used to create such devices as the Dot Mini, which is an e-book reader for the blind, which has access to hundreds of thousands of books.

Josh Anderson:
So, I’ve been looking at them. It looks like a tiny little braille cell with some different kind of wires coming off of it and everything. But if you really think about especially how expensive some braille devices are, maybe this is something that can make that cheaper, a little easier, and can maybe even open up some new doors for individuals who use braille.

Josh Anderson:
Also, in the story it talks about the Lexi Light Lamp, which we have talked about on this show before. Just because it is something that came out of CES and really has a lot of people excited. And the Lexi Light Lamp, again, is for individuals with dyslexia. It’s supposed to change the different lighting combinations in order to make reading and understanding a lot easier.

Josh Anderson:
And the last one on this story that I would think we could probably put into the assistive technology part is the Withings Scan Watch. Now Withings makes a lot of different kind of IoT devices that assist with health and keeping track of your blood pressure, your temperature, your heart rate, all these other different things. Most of the devices can also connect to an app and actually go back to the doctor. Which is a really great thing. But this is a watch that they made.

Josh Anderson:
It looks like a real watch. I mean, I would say it doesn’t really look like a smart watch, but on it is a little tiny screen. And it’s medically focused. So, it detects the symptoms of apnea and also informs you about irregular heartbeat, let’s you monitor your oxygen saturation in your blood. It can reveal breathing or circulation issues. So, a lot of health information can be relayed straight from this watch. Again, there’s tons of other devices on here. These are just the ones that kind of have that disability spin or that little bit of accessibility part that we always look for in these kind of stories.

Josh Anderson:
And then the last story is kind of about CES and some of the devices that were there. CES 2020: Setting the Stage for Display of Innovation. This one, again, has lots and lots of different devices. This one kind of goes a little bit farther into kind of the medical part. One of the devices it talks about is the Groco Care Bidet. And this received the CES 2020 Innovation Award for smart assistive tech. It’s an automatic toilet system designed for individuals who are bedridden. It’s a substitute for adult diapers or bed pans, and kind of has significant benefits by promoting personal hygiene while maintaining that patient dignity, and really lessening the burden to caregivers. We’ve had a lot of folks on this show talking about the issue of their not being enough caregivers for individuals who need them. So, this is something that can be able to help individuals out.

Josh Anderson:
They talk about Existo, E-X-I-S-T-O, which is a lightweight exoskeleton designed to help human empowerment and augment capabilities in daily living. Now, whenever we talk about exoskeleton a lot of times we think about the legs. In fact, last week I think we had a story about a lightweight exoskeleton that could be worn in order to kind of walk and be able to move for individuals who have some sort of lower extremity disability. Well, this Existo actually more works as a robotic sixth finger. So, this is for folks who have grip strength decline and reduced hand function.

Josh Anderson:
It says it’s controlled remotely by the user through a ring or EMG band. It can be used for things like picking up stuff or anything where the hand function just isn’t quite there. So, a lot different than a lot of the exoskeletons we’ve kind of talked about and sort of related to our last two episodes where we talked about the robotic arm as well as the ProstheTech and the prosthetic hands that they were making.

Josh Anderson:
This, of course, is not any sort of extensive list of all the assistive technology or definitely not all the technology that comes out of CES. A lot of these things may not ever make it to market, but it’s great that they are being worked on. I’ll put a link to all three of these different stories over in our show notes so that you can go and check them out for yourself. And kind of see all the neat stuff that’s coming out. Again, I didn’t even talk about all the things talked about on this, just tried to keep it towards those assistive devices that might be able to help individuals with disabilities and special needs. But it’s always very interesting all the different stuff that can come out of CES, and I’m sure we’ll have stories coming up in the future with even more items that came out of the show.

Josh Anderson:
So, folks, I have a one year old at home, and her favorite toy is the remote control. Really, any remote control. She has this amazing ability to take and hide whichever device I need at that time, along with adding just a little bit of drool and spittle to the thing before she stashes it. But for individuals with disabilities manipulating the small buttons or just finding the darn remote can be a major challenge.

Josh Anderson:
Well, our guest today is Barnabas Helmy from Smash Toast, and he’s here to tell us all about a device called the Puck, which can help solve this issue. Barnabas, welcome to the show.

Barnabas Helmy:
Thank you for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Barnabas, before we get into talking about Puck, can you let our listeners know a little bit about yourself?

Barnabas Helmy:
Certainly. So, I wear a number of different hats, but at the core of it all I am an entrepreneur and an inventor. I have an art background and a computer science engineering background. And Puck is kind of my baby behind everything that I do. I started the Puck in about 2015 and it’s funny that you mention having a child at home, because the reason I actually invented the Puck was I had a two year old that was teething at the time and for some reason would love to chew a little bit on the Apple TV remote or hide it from us or just do something of that nature. And now we have a puppy in the house so I’m going through the exact same thing again.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
I originally created the Puck, which is a small Bluetooth, low energy, to infrared bridge that connects to the Puck remote app, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with remotes anymore. I wanted to be able to control the Apple TV and the television from a single app.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I’m glad I’m not the only one that has that issue. Yeah, I’ve lost a few remotes, too, to our dog. He’s four now, so it’s not as bad, but I know when he was a puppy we did lose a few remotes to that kind of thing as well.

Barnabas Helmy:
Yeah, it’s a pretty universal issue, isn’t it?

Josh Anderson:
It really is. So, Barnabas, you kind of touched on it a little bit, but tell us what exactly is Puck?

Barnabas Helmy:
Yeah, so Puck is a small, Bluetooth, wireless device. It’s essentially a remote without buttons. So, if you think about like a lot of people have infrared blasters in their house that are wired. There’s a Logitech harmony and I tried a number of these things in my home to control everything from my phone, which was the ideal thing. I’m a tech nerd.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
But at the end of the day, I’m also dealing with aesthetics. So, my wife and I have a very modern aesthetic. We don’t like seeing wires everywhere. So, while I love technology, I don’t really want to see much of it.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
So, my problem was I really just wanted to get … not introduce more wires into the situation. And the solutions that were out there did that. So, I really wanted to create something, a bridge, that could control infrared devices, but was battery operated. And at the time I created Puck, Bluetooth low energy had just come on the market. And essentially it allowed me, it was perfect for this application because it allowed me to send codes to a small battery operated device via Bluetooth from the phone. And then convert those to infrared.

Barnabas Helmy:
And it could be hidden behind a cabinet door, or placed directly on the device, eliminating any line of sight worries. A lot of competitor products, and like the Samsung, I know a lot of these had infrared in the phone at the time, but again, that didn’t solve the line of sight issues for me.

Josh Anderson:
So, what all can Puck control?

Barnabas Helmy:
Well, we’ve got about 300,000 different codes in our device library.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, wow.

Barnabas Helmy:
About 5,000 different brands. And lots of different categories of devices. So, everyone immediately thinks of the Sound Bar, the Apple TV, and the television, which was what I was originally thinking. But I take requests from people and we’ll add them to the database if we can. But we have things in our database like fish aquarium lights, Christmas tree lights … we’ve got Rumba vacuums, a lot of air conditioner and HVAC units that you have remotes.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
Anything, really, that has an infrared remote, if we can record it and send it over. There are some fireplaces sometimes use proprietary codes, but for the most part it’s anything with an infrared remote.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. This is all controlled kind of from an app. So, tell us a little bit about the app.

Barnabas Helmy:
So, the app, which is free. It’s called the Puck Remote App. It’s free for IOS and Android. And it was really the brains of everything. I intentionally kept the Puck itself, the hardware, as simple as possible. Because I didn’t really want it to do a lot of the hard work. That way we could update the app and everything.

Barnabas Helmy:
So, all the Puck does itself is just translate the signal from Bluetooth to infrared and send it on. The app handles most of the logic. And whenever you download it, I purposely kept it as simple and straightforward as possible. So, you just connect to Puck and then it’ll ask you what you want to set up. So, if it’s a TV, a Sony TV, the only time you’d actually need internet access or wifi is whenever you’re downloading the code set.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
Because we update those all the time in our cloud database. And you say you want a Samsun or Sony TV and it will download those codes directly to your phone, and then from that point on it’s called a peer to peer connection, it’s a direct connection from the phone to the Puck. So, anytime you press power or anything it’s just sending the code directly from the phone to the Puck. It’s not going anywhere else.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. And you just actually, I saw that Puck version two came out. What’s different about the new version?

Barnabas Helmy:
So, the original version was more of a viability project for me, to see if this is something that actually people would use. I did a beta product and we ended up selling 500 of the beta and then 10,000 of the version one. And whenever I interacted with my customers and asked them what I could do better and what we could do with the hardware the overwhelming responses were better range. So, we were able to use a more efficient Bluetooth module, or Bluetooth low energy system on the chip with this device. Which allowed me to have a long battery life and also push the infrared signal further, because that would drain the battery in the previous one. So, it’s kind of a balancing act with that small battery.

Barnabas Helmy:
So, we get about 15 feet of range from the infrared, so you can control multiple devices easier with a single Puck. It’s Bluetooth 4.2 and actually up to 5.0 now as we push the firmware update. But the biggest thing for us under the hood is we can push firmware updates to the Puck itself and I have a lot of plans to integrate things like home kit. I know a lot of people want Alexa and Google Home voice control with it. So, we’re looking into that as well. But the main things are better battery life, better range, and way more memory on there, and the over the air firmware update.

Josh Anderson:
And just because you brought it up, some of the different things, what are some other stuff that you’re looking to kind of integrate and maybe for the next iteration of Puck, what are some of the things you’re working on?

Barnabas Helmy:
So, I have in my basement a lot of different sensors. And I wanted to move on from infrared for several years. But a learning experience for me is how much you can refine a product for a certain niche and breaking into the assistive technology world has really given me a new perspective as well. But I have a water sensor in my basement and a radio frequency for my garage door. Just different sensors.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
And the big thing for me is I don’t really want to compete with folks like Google and Amazon. So, it’s a balancing act of where we go next, but I’m ready to jump in with a lot of different stuff. I would really like to move to an RF sensor next so that you can control ceiling fans, garage doors, et cetera.

Josh Anderson:
Barnabas, just because this is kind of an assistive technology thing, I know for individuals with disabilities, I mean, especially you’re going to be using your phone for all other kinds of things. Does the app work with voiceover, talk back, voice control, all the kind of built-in accessibility features of the phones?

Barnabas Helmy:
It does. I don’t know if you want to talk about this now, but my-

Josh Anderson:
Yeah.

Barnabas Helmy:
… foray into the assistive technology world was really not a purposeful intentional thing on my part, it just happened whenever we were doing pre-orders for Puck II and I noticed rehabilitation hospitals ordering quite a few of them. And when I got in touch with them to talk about how they were using it … because so many different use cases over the years. And my thought was I have some hotel road warrior sales people that take Puck with them because they think remotes in hotel rooms are disgusting and after doing some research I didn’t realize how gross they actually are.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
But I thought maybe that if the hospital was using them, perhaps they were using them to mitigate germs and viral infections in hospital rooms. It turns out this is a spinal cord injury rehabilitation hospital and the most compelling story they told me was with a client that has … was tetraplegic and used a [Sip Puff Straw 00:20:56] attached to his hospital bed remote to change the TV. So, when he would suck on the straw it would turn the TV on or off, and blow on the straw it would turn the channel up. And they designed that, retro-fitted it, but his hospital bed was switched out and the new remote was slimmer, more modern, I guess, cheaper parts, and they couldn’t fit the [Servo 00:21:18] in there to do the Sip Puff Straw. So, he lost that freedom to change his television, which is a big thing.

Josh Anderson:
Oh yeah.

Barnabas Helmy:
But they discovered the Puck and because of how straightforward it is and also I’m a big privacy person, so we were HIPPA compliant so they could set it up, which I’m like competitor products can always require logins. So, they were able to put this on the TV and it worked with a head mouse and bite switch app, which I didn’t intend. But suddenly this client was able to control his television, everything about it, using his eyes and bite switch. Which is phenomenal. And that was just one use case.

Barnabas Helmy:
The assistive, or accessibility features within IOS 13 are astounding. It gives so much more, and an Android already uses some of those features. They work wonderfully with Puck. So, the little numbers pop up, or there’s the attention awareness now in IOS 13, so you can look at your phone and just talk to it. And this works really well with Puck. So, it’s a pretty fantastic and simple solution to be able to control your environment just using your phone.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, it really is, and I mean, like you said, a lot of folks are already using their phone and already kind of used to those, so not having to have another device, not having to have something else. I mean, the Puck is set up over there, wherever it is, and I can just open the app using whatever I’m using and then be able to use it. So, that’s awesome. And I love the way that it was kind of an unintended consequence of just somebody kind of finding it and starting to use it as assistive technology and then being able to go with it.

Josh Anderson:
It’s amazing how much technology kind of ends up becoming assistive even thought it’s really just made for the masses. But it has those amazing kind of helpful things that it can do anyway.

Barnabas Helmy:
Oh, it’s just such a cool and fulfilling part of this journey. Because as an entrepreneur you never know, you make plans and forecasts and everything else about where you want to end up, but it often doesn’t go that way.

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barnabas Helmy:
And it’s just really exciting. And after I did a little video with this rehab center, just kind of talking about how it’s being used, and I started getting emails from current customers. One was a veteran who had lost his hands in Iraq and he was using Puck with his voice. I had a client that, a customer that used it, he was paraplegic and he used it for three devices: television, I believe an air conditioner, and a Rumba vacuum.

Josh Anderson:
All right.

Barnabas Helmy:
He was just buying three more of the Puck II units. And I had a customer that hooked it up to a braille tablet who had visual impairment. So, it’s really introduced me to an aspect that customers have been using it for that I was unaware of and it’s been really exciting and I’m focusing a lot on how to improve Puck as an accessibility assistive technology device.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Well, if our listeners want to find out more about Puck, maybe purchase Puck, or even maybe give you some input on how to kind of improve it or even make it more accessible, what are the best ways for them to do that?

Barnabas Helmy:
Well, we sell it direct on Amazon right now. So, you can … if you go to our website at GETPUCK.com there are links on there to go check it out on Amazon, or you can read about it more on GETPUCK.com. But we are in a number of different retails as well. I believe Fry’s and I really, I know [inaudible 00:25:02] Amazon and e-Commerce and digital ads are much easier to control for me. So, I’m focusing quite a bit on just the Amazon side of things.

Josh Anderson:
So, how much does Puck cost?

Barnabas Helmy:
Right now the average price on Amazon is about $25 per unit. And we’ve priced it that way because it’s a competitive consumer electronics market, but I’ve managed to keep it at a low price while improving the product over all and that’s been my plan moving forward. And as compared to other assisted technology devices that serve the same function, it’s far below any of the costs of those solutions.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. It’s nice when the device isn’t just accessible, but the price makes it accessible as well.

Barnabas Helmy:
Absolutely, and that’s been my intention from the beginning, is to make something that people can afford to make their lives easier.

Josh Anderson:
Very good. Barnabas, thank you so much for coming on, telling us about Puck, telling us about how you know it can help individuals be able to access their environment a little bit more, and we can’t wait to have you back on maybe sometime in the future and find out what’s next.

Barnabas Helmy:
Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @IndataProject or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.EastersealsTech.com. Assisted Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to AccessbilityChannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the InData Project. This has been your assistive technology update. I’m Josh Anderson, with the InData Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.