Revolutionary Tactile Computing Tech startup developing computer interface for the blind and visually impaired BY MEGHAN OCKEY AND ANDREA MENDIZABAL
Calgary technology company is in the midst of developing a revolutionary multi-touch computer interface and software platform designed with the unique needs of blind and visually impaired users in mind. Founded in 2012, Invici Technologies aims to deliver a bold new human computer interface concept that allows blind and visually impaired users to access maps, graphs, calendars, apps and much more. Invici’s flagship product, the Invici Interface, is a system that combines a propriety touch screen with motion capture, speech recognition and text-to-speech synthesis abilities. These features allow users to explore, create and share the content and programs that they need most. The technology is unique in that it provides tactile feedback to the user so they can physically sense features on the screen by touch. According to Douglas Hagedorn, founder and CEO of Invici Technologies, he came across the need for this technology by accident. “I was having drinks with a gentleman, Dr. Dan Jacobson, who later became my graduate supervisor at the University of Calgary, and we were talking about cycling,” says Hagedorn. “He told me that he was once on a cycling team that paired blind cyclists with sighted cyclists on tandem bikes, and he found that his teammates without sight didn’t have a clear sense of where they had been riding. It was obvious then that there was a real need for products that serve this group of people. When Dan invited me to join his research lab it was a great opportunity to study a very unique problem.” As a geography student completing his master’s degree at the University of Calgary, Hagedorn’s research focused on analyzing existing approaches used by people who are blind or visually impaired to retrieve information that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see from maps. He studied companies and technologies – learning what was done well, what required improvement and what was needed when it came to this type of technology. “Once completing my degree, I realized that there aren’t many jobs available for people who make maps for the blind, so starting a company was a natural extension of that.” Invici is preparing to launch the Invici Interface in March 2014. Along with the Invici Interface, the Invici Classroom is a product that will aim to break down barriers between teachers and students, creating an accessible learning environment. It is a networked installation of Invici Interface 108 • November 2013 BUSINESS IN CALGARY | www.businessincalgary.com
devices that allow visually impaired students and their teachers to create and share educational resources with ease. This system will provide the functionality of a whiteboard, wiki, textbook and tablet in one flexible interface. “With our system, students can access all types of curriculum materials in a tactile format – whether it’s maps in geography class, graphs in math class or chemical models and the periodic table in a chemistry class,” says Hagedorn. “More importantly, our products give teachers a way to quickly sketch up new diagrams while they’re teaching and then immediately display them on their students’ interface devices just as you would use a regular whiteboard to illustrate concepts discussed in class.” In addition to funding from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Invici has received broad support from Calgary’s technology startup community, such as a voucher for business opportunity assessment services from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. At the 2012 Startup Calgary Launch Party, Invici was awarded Best Geo-technology Startup by TECTERRA Inc., an organization that supports the commercialization of geomatics technologies. TECTERRA has also provided further support through their Tradeshow Attendance Program, which will help Invici launch their products at the prestigious CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, California. Most recently Invici was voted the Best Presenter in the 2013 Banff Venture Forum’s Information Technology First Look Category. Earlier in September the company was also named the winner of the 2013 Perfect Pitch Competition at the 14th annual Innovate Calgary Tech Showcase, winning a cash prize along with a host of services to help accelerate Invici Technologies’ success. “Next up, we are looking for a lot of feedback from end users. We need to get the product in their hands and figure out exactly what they like and don’t like so we can refine it,” says Hagedorn. “We want this to be something extremely valuable to our clients, so it has to be exactly what they need.” To learn more about Invici Technologies, or if you or someone you know is interested in demoing the Invici Interface, visit www.invici.ca. To learn about Innovate Calgary and how it supports new and emerging technology, visit www.innovatecalgary.com.