Nexmo OpenTok API and Web RTC Enable Be My Eyes App to Assist the Visually Impaired
Challenge:Creating an easy-to-use app to help the visually impaired accomplish simple tasks around the house.
Solution:The Nexmo OpenTok API and Web RTC
Results:An application to enable visually impaired people to use their IOS and Android phones to ‘see’ with the help of a sighted volunteer.
Simple everyday tasks can often present challenges for those who are blind. Whether it’s identifying the correct public transit route for a commute, checking the expiration date of a carton of milk, or grabbing the right ingredients from the pantry for a meal; these things that most of us take for granted can require assistance for those who have no sight.
Founder of non-profit organization Be My Eyes, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, spent three years working for the Danish Blind Society interviewing people about how best to cope with visual impairment. Wiberg, who is visually impaired himself, found one common thread among all of the people he worked with: while the visually impaired often lean on friends and family to help them overcome everyday hurdles, at times they feel guilty asking for assistance. If they only had ‘another set of eyes’ once or twice a day, they could accomplish a lot more on their own, without needing help from those closest to them.
That was the inspiration that gave Wiberg the idea to build an application to enable visually impaired people to use their smartphones to ‘see’ with the help of a sighted volunteer. Be My Eyes partnered with Danish development shop Robocat to make this concept a reality.
While many visually impaired people were already use Skype and FaceTime, they still needed to call their friends and family to ask for help. Using the Nexmo OpenTok API, the Denmark-based team built an app for IOS and Android devices, which is able to match blind people who need assistance with one of a network of volunteers who are willing to help. With this app, they can ask for help without really asking and let people into their house, without even opening the door!
Registered volunteers receive notifications on their devices when a blind person is seeking help. When the volunteer accepts the request, a video connection is established between the two via the Be My Eyes app. With the rear-facing camera on the device of the person who requests help, the volunteer is able to see exactly what is in front of the visually impaired person. Helpers can then describe what they’re seeing and answer any questions.
Winberg sees this as part of a larger “micro-volunteering” movement that is gaining momentum. A person can volunteer from anywhere, anytime – they could be standing in line at the supermarket, on a break at work, or taking a walk. It is an easy but significant way of helping the blind community.
Be My Eyes is an innovative use of WebRTC and the Nexmo OpenTok API. Within only a few weeks of launching the app, over 106,000 helpers signed up to help nearly 9,000 visually-impaired users. According to Wiberg, that was just the start. In the months that followed the number of users and volunteers has grown substantially.
“It’s my hope that by helping one another as an online community, Be My Eyes will make a big difference in the everyday lives of blind people all over the world.”