BLOCK71 Singapore Entrepreneurs Feature — FingerReader

In this week’s Entrepreneurs Feature, we speak to Roger, co-founder of FingerReader, the start-up behind a user-friendly wearable device enabling visually impaired users to access visual information on the go. Roger received a B.E in Electronic Engineering in 2015 and has spent the last 3 years doing research in two of the best human-computer interaction laboratories, Augmented Human Lab at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Fluid interfaces at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. FingerReader is currently incubating with us under Modern Aging Singapore, a business accelerator programme with a focus on the silver sector, jointly run by NUS Enterprise and ACCESS Health.

1. What is FingerReader?

Sensory impairments, among them, sight loss is common between the elderly community. Since the world population is getting older, the number of people with visually impaired is growing together with it. Visually impaired people are facing numerous difficulties with existing state-of-the-art technologies to access visual information including problems with accuracy, efficiency, cost, and social acceptability.

With the design of FingerReader, we address these challenges through discreet and reliable headphones controlled by a finger-worn accessory that allows users to simply point at products, menus, signs etc. to perform a recognition and interpretation task and hear the result spoken to him or her through a headset.

This allows users to accomplish a task with a minimal number of steps compared to using a Smartphone application.

We believe, FingerReader will empower the communities who would otherwise have no access to assistive technology because they were either too expensive or did not fulfill the user expectations.

2. How did the idea behind it come about?

One of the co-founders had a friend who was blind and interactions with him made it very clear that accessing visual information with the existing technology like, SmartPhone app is a really challenging task for the blind. This triggered the idea of FingerReader. The nature and design of the headset controlled by a ring apparatus are driven by lessons from established design frameworks for both natural interaction and assistive technologies. With FingerReader we aim to create an affordable assistive device that substantially changes how people with visual impairments can independently access information on the go.

3. How does FingerReader build its dream team?

Creating a team is always the most difficult part. Luckily, FingerReader is a research project under SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design). Thanks of being part of a bigger institution we had access to talent, funding (SGEnable) and exposure.

4. Where do you see FingerReader in 5 years?

In five Years we ambition to see FingerReader in the hands of visually impaired around the world as well as starting to see FingerReader used for other cases, like education.

Currently, our main focus is to design and develop FingerReader to improve the life quality of the Visually impaired community. But we did observe and thought about other camps where same technology can be applied. We believe in the importance of being dynamic and openminded.

5. What are some of the greatest challenges in the course of your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn from them?

From our side, since we are developing with cutting age technology, the biggest challenges are to face the big giants from the industry, like Google, Facebook or Microsoft. It is really important to work close to them since they have really valuable tools that can push the idea forward really quick, but at the same time use the agility of a start-up to be in front of them showing the path and not behind following the trace.

FingerReader was one of the winning teams of the Modern Aging business accelerator in 2017. (Photo credit: Modern Aging Singapore)

6. What are the benefits of being part of Modern Aging Accelerator Programme?

We are really happy to be part of Modern Aging Accelerator, they have been very helpful and supportive. While starting a business is really helpful to have a mentor who can provide you with feedback, offer you help in the business plan, introduce you to VIP of the sector, etc… The modern aging team has been there guiding us and helping us with anything we needed.

Are you an entrepreneur working on a cool product and looking for more than just a co-working space ? Do apply for a hotdesk here and become part of the exciting community that we offer at BLOCK71 Singapore.

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