Hillel's Tech Corner: RightHear: Waze for the visually impaired

RightHear has developed mobile apps for iPhone and Android that guide the visually impaired using audio commands in real time depending on their location.

RightHear (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is 2021 and while we may be seeing the light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel, we are not quite there yet. In addition to this pandemic, the world seems to be getting increasingly unstable day by day in the political arena. There are so many big problems we are dealing with regularly, we are often distracted and forget about the people who are less fortunate than us and are having an even harder time than we are.
Have you ever stopped to think how dependent we’ve become on technology, and specifically location-based technology? I know that I rarely get into my car without activating Waze. Well, where does that leave the visually impaired and the blind? How do they find their way?
This question is amplified by the novel coronavirus pandemic because if an individual with partial or full blindness could ask for directions before COVID-19, now, due to social distancing, that has become much more challenging, if not impossible.
So whether it is in an outdoor setting, a mall (remember those?), or any other indoor setting, how has technology made the lives of the visually impaired easier and more manageable, if at all?
Well, I happen to have had a phone call this week with an old friend who works at Google and who has made accessibility in the technology sector her baby, but even she’ll agree, not enough has been done, and we can do better.
It is for this reason that when I heard of an Israeli company called RightHear that is turning public spaces into accessible environments for the blind and visually impaired, I knew I had to hear more and write about this venture.
RightHear is an advanced accessibility solution that allows its users to hear where they are, what’s there, and what’s around them simply by pointing their smartphone in different directions.
There are about 285 million people who are visually impaired in the world, 40 million of them are legally blind. In the US alone, over 3.4 million (3%) Americans ages 40 and older are either legally blind or visually impaired, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To add to that, 90% of the blind society – do not know to read braille. Think about that number for a second. Given those statistics, how much is really being done to help these millions of people navigate their day to day lives?
RightHear has developed mobile apps for iPhone and Android that guide the visually impaired using audio commands in real time depending on their location. The apps are free to download.
What is interesting about this company is that they don’t work directly with consumers, or at least their very successful business does not depend on the end user. Their business model is based on businesses and enterprises that have adopted the RightHear technology to facilitate more accessibility in their various locations.
Why do businesses care enough to partner with RightHear? By incorporating RightHear’s audio guidance, companies can:
• Improve their Accessibility Compliance.
• Improve their Corporate Responsibility.
• Expand their market to more customers.
• Improve their branding and promote inclusion.
So how big is RightHear and how successful is the company? RightHear is based in Ra’anana, Israel, has 6 employees, and has raised no external capital to date.
How successful is RightHear? They are currently working with over 250 paying customers, which are mostly huge brands like McDonald’s, Azrieli, Shufersal and Aroma in Israel and abroad. RightHear’s Partners pay a one-time fee for setup and then an annual subscription.
RightHear has generated over $1M in revenue in the past three years and was named The Best Bootstrapped Startup of 2020 by Geektime.
The company explains its mission as follows: “We’ve built RightHear with a mission to turn the world into a more accessible place for people with orientation challenges including the blind and visually impaired.”
The company was founded March 1, 2015, and acquired its first customer on October 20, 2015. By October 30, 2017, RightHear had already made 200 locations accessible using their technology and signed a deal with Shufersal on March 1, 2017.
The company continued to grow and reached 1,000 locations by February 1, 2019. RightHear is not the only audible-wayfinding technology out there, but according to the company, they have 10 times more locations than the rest of the market. As of today, RightHear has over 1,027 enabled locations, with 13 new locations being added every month.
RightHear’s Cofounder and CEO Idan Meir, is a serial entrepreneur with an MA in psychology and Management from The Open University of Israel. The Cofounder and CTO Gil Elgrably, is also a serial entrepreneur who holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science from the Technion.
Additionally, the company has strategic partnerships with the likes of Google for Startups, Microsoft, and Moovit, among others, and is trusted by hundreds of brands around the world.
One more thing about the team? RightHear’s Strategic Product Adviser Adi Kushnir, is a blind software engineer.
As far as the actual product, the RightHear solution has three main components:
1. Accessibility Spot (AS). Every AS contains a tiny, smart, self-powered sensor that uses Bluetooth technology to detect whenever a user is nearby. It can be easily installed anywhere, indoor and outdoor. Accessible Spots can typically be found near entrances, restrooms, elevators, stairs or any other point of interest in the venues.
2. Mobile Apps. Key Features:
• CURRENT LOCATION – Helpful, relevant information about the AS location: opening hours, services, nearby obstacles, venue description, special events etc.
• 360° ORIENTATION – Information about the surroundings of the user’s current location and about points of interest nearby with clear details about their direction and distance.
• LIVE ASSISTANT – A local assistance representative that users can call for further information about the venues and also for providing them physical guidance.
• NEARBY ZONES – List of all Accessibility Zones (AZ) nearby the user (sorted by distance). It also allows the user to navigate to an AZ using a 3rd party application (i.e., Google Maps). When approaching the AZ’s entrance, user will start receiving accessibility information.
3. Client Dashboard: A content management platform (CMS) that allows the venue’s owner to manage the fleet of Accessibility Spots and easily edit the accessibility information in real-time. The content will be immediately updated and available on the AS.
Given RightHear’s proprietary technology, its global traction and its highly talented and resourceful team, it seems this company is well on its way to making our world more accessible to all.