Sesame Enable -- doing good for the world, with tech

Warning in advance: this post is going to be a little bit gushy but, in my view, deservedly so.

On a regular basis, I hear from different technology vendors who go to great lengths to explain just how their product is helping the world. These vehement claims remind me of the Silicon Valley comedy show on HBO in which Javeed, founder of the fictional Goolybib startup, says (and with a straight face), “Ok, you know, we're making a lot of money. And yes, we're disrupting digital media. But most importantly we're making the world a better place through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.”

Unfortunately, most people who claim world betterment as part of their product and corporate focus are actually entirely focused on making truckloads of cash. Now don’t get me wrong -- making a profit, as a company or an investor, is an important objective, but I find all the lily-gilding a little bit off-putting.

And so, when I was in Israel recently, I was excited to meet with Oded Ben Dov, CEO and co-founder of Sesame Enable. Sesame Enable is the company behind the Sesame Phone, a device whose focus is on allowing highly disabled individuals use a smartphone. It is the first completely touch-free smartphone, which was created for people with disabilities, by people with disabilities. Sesame's other founder is Giora Livne, a quadriplegic veteran and former engineer.

Powered by voice control and head-tracking technology, the Sesame Phone opens a new world of communication and independence to a population that needs it most: quadriplegics, people suffering from ALS, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, severe arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and others who have limited to no use of their hands.

In an ironic twist of chronology, Sesame Enable was founded in 2007, the very same year that Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, in doing so unleashing a revolution in terms of mobility. The same year Livne met Ben Dov and challenged him to produce a smartphone that he, without hand or leg movement, could use.

It has been a very long journey, but that is what Sesame Enable produced -- and not a highly specific and proprietary physical device, but an Android application that is downloadable in the way any other application is. Users of (at this stage, but watch this space) Android Nougat, can download the app and leverage the face-tracking, eye-tracking and point scanning functionality that Android offers.

The app-based approach is a departure from Sesame Enable's previous incarnation which saw the company offer a preconfigured device based on Google’s Nexus 5. Now users can chose their own device (with the caveat that it needs to be a later version of Android and is, at this stage, limited to Android devices only.) The app is available through a subscription-based model, with the first month of use offered for free. The Google connection is actually a deep one as Google’s philanthropic arm actually donated $1 million for Sesame Enable to provide its solution for every single Israeli who needs it.

The video below does a good job of demonstrating what Sesame can do, but essentially it gives those without the use of their hands the same level of functionality that I get from my mobile -- be it Facebook, games or whatever.

What I really like about Sesame enable is that it is a for-profit business, that is working in an area of real human benefit. I spent some time talking with Ben Dov about this and questioning whether the requirements of eventual investors or the realities of a commercial business, will not make this more virtuous direction increasingly difficult. He was very upbeat, and while he is the first to admit that his company is unlikely to ever become a unicorn, he is confident that a successful and sustainable business can be created from this important area.

I certainly hope so, I came away from the meeting feeling slightly less jaded about our industry in generally and personally I would like to salute Ben Dov and those like him who are doing important work in areas that are less sexy and immediately commercially beneficial than most.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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