An Android app is turning smartphones into eyes for the visually impaired. Created by marketing agency Grey Singapore, Lend an Eye consists of a pair of apps, one for the visually-impaired and another for the volunteer.
Whenever users need assistance, they simply activate the app through voice or a double-tap on the screen, and several volunteers are contacted simultaneously. The person who answers the call first through the volunteer app can guide the user through both a real-time video feed from the user’s smartphone camera and an embedded map broadcasting the user’s location.
The technology is no different from video calling apps like Skype and FaceTime. Where Lend an Eye innovates is with the app design and the process. From the quick activation by touch and voice to the automatic rerouting of the call to an available volunteer, the app is fully optimized for the visually impaired.
Its creators tested the app with five visually impaired people before launching it. According to senior art director Ying Zhi Deng:
“All the visually impaired people we tested the app with do not go out alone because they have to rely on strangers for simple tasks like buying mints, paying bills or crossing a small lane. If there’s no one around, they just wait. This app gave them the confidence to step out unsupervised and accomplish simple tasks they previously never attempted.”
Unlike other apps which use preprogrammed routes, Lend an Eye’s mission is not just about taking users from point A to point B. The creators want to enable “the visually impaired to make choices like normal people do.”
According to statistics from WHO, there are 39 million blind people worldwide. The app’s potential is huge, but could Lend an Eye’s model be easily replicable in other parts of the world?
Another statistic could be a stumbling block: 90% of the visually impaired live in developing countries. The app relies heavily on a high-speed connection for the video feed to work properly, so it could be an issue if the service expands outside of Singapore where internet speeds are not as fast and smartphone penetrations are not as high.
The service also needs a constant source of volunteers for it to work. Yes, the app makes it easier to help the visually impaired, but more incentives for frequent volunteering is needed to truly sustain it.
The team from Grey Singapore developed the app as a CSR initiative and are not looking to monetize or raise funds. Last June, the team received validation with a bronze medal Lion win in Cannes for the “Best Use of Mobile Devices” category.
Not only does the award affirm the team’s innovative vision, it serves as an encouraging nod for any venture which, like Lend an Eye, can find new uses for existing technology.