Hillel's Tech Corner: Human-computer interaction 2.0

Open Sesame is a head tracking app, that uses the front-facing camera to allow the user to control an on-screen mouse cursor using their head movements.

Open Sesame (photo credit: Courtesy)
Open Sesame
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We often speak of how far we’ve come in terms of technology. But if you think about it for a second, how primitive is it that we still interact with our computers and smart devices with mouse clicks and finger swipes? It’s very primitive, and for those with little-to-no use of their hands, it is immobilizing. It deprives them of a unique kind of freedom and independence that the rest of us take for granted. There has to be a better, more natural, more intuitive way.
For people with disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, ALS, neurodegenerative diseases, cerebral palsy, and others- there are many regular hurdles when it comes to using their hands to access computers and smart devices. Standard voice commands tend to be very limited, and extended voice commands allow the users to answer/dismiss calls or end conversations using their voice. But we all know there’s far more depth to how devices are used for consumption of all types of content – from standard web browsing, to games, to social networks, videos, podcasts, eBooks and so much more. This is where Sesame Enable comes in.
Sesame Enable develops hands-free control technologies for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, Windows PCs and laptops, and even for websites that can offer head tracking directly from the web browser. It enables users to control their digital experience without touching the screen and can track the users head, hand or any other presented object.
The company was founded by Oded Ben Dov and Giora Livne in 2012. Oded was demonstrating a game on TV that was controlled using head gestures. Giora, a former Navy commander who is a quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury, called him up the next day and said, “Hi, I can’t move my hands or legs, could you make me a smartphone I could use?” That was the beginning of Sesame Enable. The two partnered up and set to create the world’s first touch-free smartphone. With the backing of the Israel Innovation Authority, they went onto create the world’s first head controled app for mobile devices, Open Sesame. Google took notice of the potential of Open Sesame, and took things to a whole other level by not only having their app featured on the Play Store, but by also offering support towards the distribution of the app.
How it Works
Open Sesame is a head tracking app, that uses the front-facing camera to allow the user to control an on-screen mouse cursor using their head movements. By staying (dwelling) over a particular element, a menu pops up asking if the user would like to tap, swipe, pinch, hold, etc. Once the action is selected, the user’s intent is sent to the operating system as if someone is actually touching the screen.
The proprietary tracking technology is efficient and precise, intuitive, easy to use, and most importantly, enabling and empowering. With the exemption of iOS, the system runs on top of the entire operating system, allowing interaction with any given app, thus providing the same level of access everyone has.
Open Sesame is currently used by thousands of people worldwide, giving them independent access to the digital realm. Most of the company’s users are from the US, Europe, Japan, Australia, South America, and the Middle East. The company works with organizations such as the US Veterans Administration, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the ALS Association, and Ezer Mizion in Israel to reach people who would benefit from their technology.
In addition to the support from the Israel Innovation Authority, Sesame Enable received an undisclosed amount in funding from private angel investors in Israel and the US. They also received a $1 million award from Verizon, and an additional $100,000 from Michael Bloomberg in the Genesis Generation Challenge.
As you can imagine, the heartfelt stories Sesame Enable received along the way have been endless. Children played Angry Birds for the first time in their lives. Siblings in different continents finally connected. Some people got back to drawing, and others returned to work. They even had several users who were on the brink of suicide, only to be brought back to life through the daily use of a smartphone and the potential it opened up.
There are tens of millions more people around the world that are denied access to computers and smart devices due to their disabilities that would benefit tremendously from this technology. That number is unfortunately going to go up when you factor the aging population. Add to that people who may only temporarily be paralyzed, or regular people in situations in which both hands are occupied. While technology has come a long way in most aspects of the user experience, people with disabilities with limited use of their hands have been left in the dark. Solutions such as Open Sesame by Sesame Enable have been long overdue, but thank goodness is finally here.
Face and eye tracking is not new and it is not exclusive to Sesame. There are many players in the space, both in Israel and across the world but Sesame Enable has taken this cutting edge technology to a very specific niche, enhancing the lives of people who sure can use the delight of using modern technology.