On February 7th, an Osaka-based startup pitch event called Shoot took place. Nine startups pitched in total, and perhaps the most remarkable one was Mimimiru, presenting a wearable device designed for the blind and visually impaired. Mimimiru analyzes image data and lets users know what’s in that image by reading information aloud.
Tomoyuki Hisada is a software engineer and the CEO of Another Brain, the startup behind this device. He has been considering how he could support a visually impaired friend of his through IT. Observing a rising trend in wearable devices like Google Glass, he came up with the idea for Mimimiru. He tells us:
When I saw wearable devices, I thought this could be a tool for disabled people. If I could inform blind and visually impaired people about what they see in front of them, their everyday lives could be much improved.
He presented Mimimiru for the first time at the MA9 Mashup Camp Osaka web development contest, where the device won the top award and moved on to the second stage where it won the NTT docomo Award, KDDI Web Communications Award, and the TechWave Award. At the Docomo Wearable Hackathon held last December, it won the Award for Excellence. The startup is currently developing a prototype using a Docomo character recognition API.
Technology for reading image data aloud is still under development, and it is expected that it will be a few years before it can be really put to use. So Hisada sought and found another solution by turning to crowdsourcing and social media. He explains:
A user takes pictures with a wearable device and post the image(s) to Twitter. And his followers can then reply and tell him information about the picture, which the device will then read aloud. It’s essentially five-second volunteer work that can really help the visually impaired.
He’s receiving support from a volunteer group on Twitter, and he hopes to develop a system by utilizing the activity of social welfare corporations and NPOs who create lists of visually impaired Twitter users and blocks mischievous users. They could also gain support from corporations as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.
We’d like to keep our eyes on Mimimiru, one of many interesting wearable tech startups here in Japan.