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19 January 2021

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world’s largest consumer technology exhibition and showcases the products likely to appear in our shops in the coming months. While less products were showcased this year due to COVID-19 and CES moving online, there were still thousands of product announcements. Here at CFA Australia we’ve picked out our favourite mainstream and disability-specific devices showcased that we reckon offer the greatest potential to support people with disability.

Samsung Bot Care and Bot Handy Robots

Robots have been around for a long time, but aside from the vacuum cleaner they’ve never really been widely adopted. That may finally change with Samsung releasing two new robots, the Bot Handy and the Bot Care, which could be of huge benefit to people with disability.

The Bot Handy is essentially a personal butler and is designed to perform basic household tasks. It can adjust its height, pick up objects and do basic household chores like unpacking the dishwasher or pouring a drink. What makes it particularly of interest to us is that it can detect the height, weight and size of the objects it handles meaning it knows how much pressure to apply when lifting and carrying things. This could be a game changer in terms of assisting people with disability with mobility needs that require assistance getting up and down from a chair or other accessibility-related requirements around the house in addition to its helpful demonstrated tasks. A second robot, the Bot Care, is a cross between a robot and a digital assistant, designed to be more of a companion. It can interact with you and help you connect to online services like social media. This may also be helpful for people with disability and challenges with mental health and loneliness. Fingers crossed these robots will become a commercial reality in 2021.

GM driverless flying car

For many people with disability relating to vision and mobility, the dream of having the use of a driverless car has been tantalisingly close for several years. If the thought of being in traffic with a driverless car is appealing, imagine if your car didn’t have to stay in traffic at all. That’s the thinking behind the new General Motors (GM) driverless flying car, the GM Cadillac veto air taxi.

The idea behind this flying car is that it’d be a short-range vehicle that could take you to the landing port closest to your destination, similar to a taxi stand. For people with disability that can’t drive, the potential that the car could fly you into the city for a meeting and home again afterwards is a very exciting one. Unfortunately this is a concept vehicle for now, but gives us an exciting glimpse into what major car manufacturers are working on that could not only meet our driverless car expectations, but exceed them.

Dynamic refreshable Braille on the way: APH

American Printing House (APH) announced its latest series of Braille products at CES 2021.  However, what was of most interest to us was the promise of a multi-line Braille interface at a relatively low price point coming soon. In an interview with CNET, Greg Stilson, APH’s head of global innovation, stated that “APH is developing a Dynamic Tactile Device that would create multiple lines of braille, so a blind student, for instance, could have immediate access to an image, diagram or shape that’s being discussed in class” and that this would be completed with a lower price, given their current flagship braille Bluetooth device costs nearly $USD2500.  We’ll watch this space with interest.

HeardThat and Sravi apps improve hearing and speech communication

There were two apps launched at CES 2021 that caught our attention. The first is HeardThat currently available on iOS and coming to Android soon. HeardThat is an app that can be connected to a hearing aid or microphone pointed at a person speaking to display the text of a conversation, filtering out background noise in a similar way to how humans process loud environments. This can potentially make it easier for someone that has difficulty hearing to review the words in a conversation. Full details can be found at the HeardThat website.

The other app of interest on the horizon is Sravi developed by Liopa, a company that’s developed AI-based lip-reading technology. This app builds on that technology by analysing lip movements. This can be helpful for people with speech difficulties, or patients in critical care with ailments that render them incapable of speaking. The app is currently being trialed in the UK’s National Health Service and will hopefully provide more details soon.

Perso smart lipstick, foundation, skincare device: great for people with a colour vision disability

The last innovation that we thought was worth sharing was by Loreal, a device that allows you to create lipstick, foundation and skincare in pretty much any colour you wish. The device works by installing three lipstick liquid cartridges, then mixes them together to create the colour you need.

The reason this caught our attention is because one of the biggest challenges for a person who has a colour vision impairment is trying to put on make-up. The benefit of this solution is that is partners with an app that can scan your skin tones and environmental conditions such as lighting, and mix together the best lipstick for you, taking the guesswork out of making a selection. At $USD299 it’s not cheap, but may make an important step forward in applying make-up when its difficult to determine colour gradients.

Well that about wraps it up for another CES. For further details on these and all the announcements please visit the CNET CES 2021 website.

The Centre For Accessibility Australia is a joint project by Media on Mars, DADAA and Dr Scott Hollier and is funded by the Department of Communities, Disability Services.

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