Christopher Reeve is famous as Superman in movies. As the man of steel with amazing superpowers, he was unbeatable.
In real life, though, a bad fall from his horse left Reeve a quadriplegic. How suddenly life changes. One day you’re a hero with superpowers. The next day you’ve lost control of your body.
The loss of control over their bodies is devastating for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients. An Israeli startup now offers the hope to regain some of the lost control with its app, Sesame Enable.
The spinal cord is the main pathway for transmitting information between the brain and the nerves that lead to muscles, skin, internal organs and glands.
Spinal cord injuries result from a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures vertebrae. Displaced bone fragments bruise the spinal cord tissue. Most injuries don't completely sever the spinal cord. Instead, compression of the vertebrae destroys the nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body.
Quadriplegia results from an injury to the spinal cord in the neck area. Movement of the limbs is lost. Breathing is impaired. Personal independence is lost.
Thousands of lives are impacted. There are over 250,000 quadriplegics in the United States. Care often costs more than $400,000 a year. Men under 30 years old are most often the patients of spinal cord injuries. Car accidents are the biggest cause.
SCI patients depend on caregivers for activities of daily living (ADL). Life diminishes further as they’re unable to use computers or control appliances by themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way. An innovative app to control Internet of Things (IoT) devices now enriches the lives of quadriplegics and expands their independence.
User interface designers have made it easier for people to interact with technology. But keyboards, joysticks and mice all assume the user has motor skills. This assumption doesn’t always apply to quadriplegics. Voice control is also difficult.
What’s needed is another human-machine interface for the severely disabled—something they can manage with even limited body control: head movements.
Most IoT devices can be controlled through a mobile app. But how can quadriplegics with little body control use those mobile apps? A new human-machine interface was needed.
Oded Ben-Dov and Giora Livne (a quadriplegic) founded Sesame Enable to solve this challenge. Their solution is a mobile app for Android smartphones.
Their app uses the phone’s camera and sophisticated algorithms to interpret the user’s head movements. The users control other IoT apps on the phone with head gestures to manage their connected devices, send messages and play games. The Nest app, for instance, can be controlled with Sesame Enable. A person with a spinal cord injury adjusts the room temperature based just on head gestures.
The disabled can do more for themselves with the Sesame Enable app. It’s affordable and works on regular Android smartphones. It doesn't require any changes to the mobile apps or IoT devices.
Google.org has provided support to Sesame Enable. This wonderful non-profit supports tech entrepreneurs who are using innovation to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. It invests in teams that have bold ideas for creating lasting global impact.
Annually, Google.org donates over a $100 million in grants and $1 billion in products.
Spinal Cord Injury Information Pages: a wonderful resource for those living with a spinal cord injury or other disabling injuries of the spine. I found it to be the best resource for background research on SCI for this article.
AbleData: a federally funded database that provides information on assistive technology and rehabilitation equipment. It contains information on more than 25,000 assistive technology products, information on customized products, and do-it-yourself designs.
Spinal cord injuries are devastating. Reeve was confined to a wheelchair after his accident and required a portable ventilator for the rest of his life. He persevered and advocated for others with spinal cord injuries.
Reeve would have been pleased with the freedom Sesame Enable offers quadriplegics.
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