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Faces of Innovation: Oded Ben-Dov of Sesame Enable

Sesame Enable CEO Oded Ben-Dov

Sesame Enable CEO and Co-Founder Oded Ben-Dov has developed the first touch-free smartphone app for quadriplegics and people with disabilities. The handsfree app, called Open Sesame, enables people with disabilities to operate smartphones through head movements and facial recognition technology, bringing greater accessibility to people with disabilities. i3 recently sat down with Ben-Dov to learn about Sesame Enable.

What inspired you to create the company? 

About six years ago I was developing apps and games for mobile phones, with a focus on computer vision and image processing – where the computer understands what the camera is seeing. I appeared on Israeli TV to demonstrate a game I had developed that was controlled using head gestures. The user would chase the mobile character around by moving his or her head. The next day, I received a phone call from a man saying, "Hi, I can't move my hands or legs, could you make me a smartphone I can use?” That man was Giora Livne, now my co-founder at Sesame Enable. He saw the technology, connected the dots, and realized the potential for him and people in his condition. We met and the rest is history. 

How does the product work? 

Our technology is an app on Google's Play Store. Once downloaded, the app utilizes the front-facing camera, and Sesame’s proprietary algorithms track the user's head movements with extreme precision. These movements control an on-screen cursor, so if you move your head to the right the cursor goes to the right. Once you hover in one place with the cursor, a menu pops up allowing you to tap, swipe, pinch and more at the user’s desired location. By mimicking a user's basic operations like tapping or swiping, we enable users to access any app. The app doesn't know that it is being controlled by a virtual headtracking cursor and not a finger. 

Why is it important to create accessible technology?

The way we see it at Sesame, we have a responsibility to apply cutting-edge technology to those that need it most, and the disabled community often lacks the force or tech knowledge to bring change about themselves, so we will do it for them. As a society we are shifting towards a more responsible, sustainable and versatile culture. Caring for those facing extra challenges definitely falls in line with the mindset of creating accessible technology.

How has your product helped people with disabilities?

One Sesame user, Ori, was 7 years old when I first met him. At the age of one, Ori became paralyzed. When he received his Sesame Enable phone, Ori was immediately able to operate the phone and play games like Angry Birds. Ori’s experience reminds me that technology can compensate for things that he is missing out on. Once he started playing Angry Birds, Ori played the game wrong. He would pull the bird up, causing it to fly into the ground, not reaching its piggy target (Angry Birds is a slingshot game for those who don't know). This happened repeatedly until I realized that Ori has never fired a slingshot or thrown a ball. He doesn't get trajectory like you and I. So I explained that when you pull the bird down it flies up. He then went on to complete dozens of levels successfully on his own. His therapist told me that technology fills so many gaps for him. This is one example of how Sesame Enable allows people like Ori to gain new experiences and accessibility. It's amazing to witness.

Sara Garvin