Loro’s mounted wheelchair assistant puts high tech to work for people with disabilities

A person with a physical disability can not interact with the world in the same way, but there is no reason why we can not use technology to close this gap. Loro is a wheelchair-mounted device that gives the occupant the ability to see and interact in a powerful way with people and things around them.

Loro's camera and app work together to allow the user to see further, read or translate writings, identify people, make gestures with a laser pointer, and more. They showcased their technology on the scene today at the start of Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Invented by a team of mostly students gathered at Harvard's innovation lab, Loro began as a simple camera allowing people with disabilities to more easily visualize their surroundings.

"We started this project for our friend Steve," said Johae Song, co-founder and Creative Director of Loro. A designer like her and other members of their group of friends diagnosed Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative neural disease that paralyzes the person's muscles. "We have therefore decided to offer solutions to help people with reduced mobility."

"We started with just the idea of ​​a camera attached to the wheelchair, to give people a panoramic view so that they can navigate easily," said co-founder David Hojah . "We developed this idea after talking with mentors and experts. we did a lot of iterations and had the idea to be smarter, and now this platform can do all these things. "

It is not easy to conceive in a responsible way for a population like people with ALS and people with motor problems. The problems they may encounter in everyday life are not necessarily what one might think, nor are the solutions always obvious. The Loro team has therefore decided to consult many sources and to devote a lot of time to simple observation.

"Very basic observation – stay seated and watch," said Hojah. "We can get an idea of ​​what people need without even asking specific questions."

Other people might express specific concerns without proposing solutions, such as a flashlight that the user can direct via the camera interface.

"People did not say," I want a flashlight, "they said," I can not move in the dark. "So we thought about it and found the flashlight," he said. An obvious solution in some respects, but only observation and understanding allows to put it into practice.

The goal is always communication and independence, Song said, and it is the users who determine what will be included.

"We brainstorm together and go out and test the users. We realize that some features work, others do not. We are just trying to let them play and see the features most used by users. "

Song and Hojah acknowledged that there are already assistive devices for people with motor impairments, but they are usually expensive, heavy, and poorly designed. Hojah worked in the design of medical devices, so he knows what he's talking about.

As a result, Loro was designed to be as accessible as possible, with a tablet interface that can be browsed with the help of eye tracking (via a Tobii camera setup) or Other inputs such as joysticks and puff tubes.

For example, you can direct the camera to look behind the wheelchair so that the user can make a safe backup. You can also zoom in on a menu that is hard to see from a user's point of view and read the items. The laser pointer allows a user who has no opportunity to point or gesture to signal, as we take for granted, such as choosing a pastry in a case. The speech synthesis is integrated, so users do not need to use a separate application to speak aloud.

The camera also tracks faces and can recognize them from a personal database (for the moment hosted in the cloud) intended for people who need help to follow the people with whom they interact. The best of us can lose a name or not put a face – honestly, I would not want to have a Loro on my shoulder at some of our events.

The team is currently focusing on finalizing the material. the application and features are mostly finalized, but the case, etc., must be ready for production. The company itself is in its infancy – just incorporated a few months ago and worked with pre-seed funding of $ 100,000 to create the prototype. The next step is to prepare a seed to prepare for production.

"The whole team is passionate about empowering these people, not just waiting for the help of others," Hojah said. He clearly explained that their engine was compassion.

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