The Gerard & Anton Awards have been presented again! So it’s high time we took a closer look at the winners and what we can expect from these start-ups in the coming years. Today: Hable.

Hable is developing a braille keyboard with eight keys that will allow blind and visually impaired people to use a smartphone.

Founders: Ayushman Talwar (managing director), Tom Kersten (director of operations), Freek Welsenis (innovation & strategic director), Gijs Leemrijse (technical lead)

Founded: Hable has been registered at the Chamber of Commerce since January 2019.

Number of employees: 4

Funding: Hable is to receive a grant for the next test period from the funds of the MIT Innovation Credit for SMEs and Top Sector Energy, both part of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

What does Hable do?

Hable has made a braille keyboard for smartphones. It’s so small it fits on the back of a smartphone. Freek Welsenis: “Currently the blind and visually impaired use voice control when using touchscreens. In view of privacy concerns, this technology is not always convenient. We have developed our product through intensive consultation with users and by seeing how they use their smartphones. Those small dots on our keyboard feel like how you would feel them on paper, and you hold the device just as you would otherwise. Because it’s so small, you can put it in your pocket and take it anywhere.”

“The forty or fifty keys that are on a normal keyboard have been reduced to eight buttons. By combining those eight buttons, you can type all of the letters, numbers and punctuation marks as you would in Braille. Where we have a button for an ‘a’, they use a combination of six buttons. Hable is not only a keyboard, but you can also now use it to navigate from app to app.”

How did the idea come about?

“The idea was conceived in India two and a half years ago. Our CEO, Ayushman Talwar, thought it up. His grandfather gradually went blind and couldn’t use his phone anymore. Ayushman wanted to help his grandfather with that. He came up with a kind of phone case with a few buttons, an idea that was not further developed in India. After that, Ayushman came to TU/e last year to do his master in Industrial Design. His idea went along with him and last June he pitched it during the TU/e contest, which earned him the ASML Makers Award. Our other founder, Tom Kersten, won the same TU/e contest for a backpack for the blind. Also a great idea, although with a development timeframe of ten years. Ayusman approached Tom and said: “I also have a good idea, maybe a better idea and we can bring it to the market within a year and a half.” That’s how our start-up began.”

A month and a half later Freek Welsenis joined, and after two months Gijs Leemrijse completed the team.

What motivates Hable?

Social impact is very important to us. That everyone has equal opportunities in the employment market or is able to be independent. I want to develop products that contribute to this. People who are blind type much faster, they don’t have to take their fingers off the buttons. They also play sound three times as fast. Which is really incomprehensible to me. I think it’s wonderful that, with the right tools, you can turn something that is a handicap into an advantage.”

“I find public approval of this really cool. If you give our device to people, they are often able to use it within a few seconds. You see people really beaming, especially because it works so fast. It’s nice to be able to do something good at such a young age.”

What is Hable’s goal?

“The ultimate goal is to make more of these products so that everyone is able to fully participate in daily life. These can be products for people who are blind or partially sighted, but also for people who are deaf, or who have a physical or mental disability.”

What can we expect from Hable in the coming year?

“In a few weeks, we’ll be selling the keyboard to ten customers. We will use their feedback in order to improve the keyboard. We will also have fifty blind and visually impaired people test our device extensively in a pilot project. Next year, we will really be entering the international market. We are now talking to different retailers in various countries about this.”

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