Israeli start-up pioneers smartphone for quadriplegics

Sesame Enable assists patients with head gesture-controlled technology.

November 6, 2014 20:07
3 minute read.

Oded Ben Dov with Sesame Enable user. (photo credit: BASTI HANSEN)


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When Giora Livne saw tech entrepreneur Oded Ben Dov presenting his iPhone game on a late-night television show three years ago, he didn’t know both their lives were about to change.

The game in question, Mimo, used an algorithm to follow players’ head movements, which were then used to control the game play.

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For Livne, the technology promised far more than that. Six years earlier, the IDF navy veteran and electrical engineer had been paralyzed after falling off a ladder, leaving him only limited movement in his hands and neck.

The next day, he tracked Ben Dov down and called him to pitch an idea: if head movement could be used to play a game, couldn’t it be used to control an iPhone? “When I saw what Oded was doing in the game, I immediately had the spark that I could use that – not just for me, but for any quadriplegics,” Livne said.

For his part, Ben Dov was ready to take on the challenge. A Technion-Israel Institute of Technology graduate who had spent several years working in high-tech, Ben Dov felt that Livne was offering him the opportunity to do something meaningful with his talents.

Together, they created the Sesame Enable software, named after the voice command used to unlock the phone: Open Sesame.

“Sesame is the cave that opens to all the treasures, and I wanted to get to everything that’s in there,” said Liven. “Plus, everyone knows it.”


Here’s how it works: the camera is mounted in front of the user and held in place. From there, after an initial settings adjustment, the camera detects the user’s head movements and uses them to control a mouse pointer on the screen. When the user stops on one spot, four buttons appear around the pointer, allowing them to click, do a “long press,” or “hold down” the cursor for dragging and swiping.

They have experimented with other formats as well, such as the use of blinking and mouth gestures. Many quadriplegics use a series of mouth sticks to control their wheelchairs and various assistant devices, and the idea of replacing one them with a head gesture holds great appeal.

The company, which has received $250,000 from angel investors and the Chief Scientist’s Office, is nearing the end of an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to pay for the first batch of phones.

People who pitch in can buy one for cheap – the phone itself is a Google Nexus phone upgraded with Sesame Enable’s software, and the first buyers will be able to get them for less than many other phones out on the market.

According to the Ben Dov, there is a large market for the venture. More than 5 million Americans suffer from some sort of paralysis, he said, nearly 2 percent of the US population.

While not all of them have trouble using smart phones, he estimated that 1 million to 2 million do.

With its features adaptable enough to address a wide range of physical problems, from ALS to severe carpal tunnel syndrome, the phone could help millions.

For Livne, who has been using his phone religiously for calls, email, Facebook and the Internet, the phone has been life-changing, but he still sees more promise yet on the horizon.

“I’m starting to get interested in smart homes, turning on the A/C, TV, the lights, the blinds,” he said. “As an engineer, I’m always thinking about solutions to make life easier. My mind doesn’t stop working to find solutions.”

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