What’s The Sense Of EchoSense?

I heard about this about a week and a half ago, and meant to blog about it that weekend. That didn’t happen.

All I knew about it when I saw it on Twitter was it was some kind of revolutionary device for the blind, going to increase our independence. It was being madly retweeted over and over again, and the tweet got me curious enough to click the link. What I found confused me, broke my heart, and made me wonder if the developer of this actually consulted their target market.

The link was to something called Echo-Sense CheckMates, which I’m going to attempt to explain without causing an aneurysm.

Basically, a blind person puts on these glasses and carries around an extra phone. They have to get a special phone with this product so it will stream over GSM networks and things apparently. If they find themselves in a place where they need some assistance, they phone their “caregiver”, note the quotes, and their “caregiver” can go on the computer, and see a streaming video of where this person is and give them guidance. Also, these videos can be stored on the server for later viewing. All of this is available for the low low price of $2,995.00.

So before I get into the most offensive part of this whole thing, let’s talk practicalities. First, holy pricetag batman. I know that a lot of our stuff is expensive, but this seems completely absurd. Nearly 3 grand for something like Facetime and some high-tech glasses? Are you serious?

And, you have to use their special phone? Most of us already have a cellphone. We don’t want to carry around a second one.

And about that images stored on a server for later viewing thing: Is it only taking images and video when a call is in place, or are those glasses sending images all the time? I foresee some serious spying potential here. No thanks!

So, these people who would help you would have to be pretty darn good at giving you guidance about your surroundings. That’s hard enough to do when the person is with you live in the same room. Imagine doing it by video, which has a one-second delay I might add. It’s a rare breed who can direct a person that well, remotely, I would think.

Also, if you decide you need to phone home like ET, what on earth would you do if no one was around to answer your call? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to, um, ask a passer-by? Do you live in a place so dangerous that you must trust no one but authorized friends and family??

And finally, on to the most offensive part. Ug! Note the number of times on that page where it says “caregiver”. I’m sorry, but most of us don’t have those. We don’t get carted around by workers and support personnel. And if we did need support workers, we wouldn’t be set loose in the wild on our own with just these glasses and a phone.

Since these things were being tweeted all over the place, I was trying to get the best possible sense of what these glasses were. I didn’t want to judge them unfairly. So I tried to read the instructions.

Wait, nothing’s happening!

Oh, the people who put this up helpfully placed the instructions in a jpg. Ah, so only our caregivers need instructions. We don’t get any. I see how this goes! *puke*.

I feel like, once again, a company with probably the best of intentions has decided it is going to save the world, and has built a very expensive piece of technology, without talking to the users about whether we would find it helpful. If they had done some basic homework, they would have found quite a lot of these problems.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally see where the inspiration for this came from. There are times where I need to find a bathroom in one heck of a hurry, and there doesn’t seem to be a single Tom, Dick or Harry around to ask for directions. That time those drunken fools threw glass in my direction, maybe if I could have called someone, they could have looked out from the comfort of their apartment, and told me what I needed to know. But those situations are quite rare, and I couldn’t justify spending 3 grand on something that has such a small number of times it could be useful. Most times, the solution is either a lot simpler, like asking someone who walks by, or other technology has taken care of it, like GPS or other talking devices. This video at CSUN mentions a case where this dude’s wife had to come home from work and help her husband manage his insolen. Now there are talking glucometers that handle telling him what his levels are, eliminating that need. Years ago, if this had come out, maybe it would have been somewhat revolutionary. But now, I’m not so sure.

I feel like the only people that this might work for are the people we have described as wrapped in bubble-wrap. They’ve been taken care of their whole life, and now they realized they want to get out on their own, but their families are afraid to cut the cord. That’s about it. The rest of us either can manage with a few skills we learn to deal with these situations, or we need too much help to be sent out alone.

Baaa. I’ve been wrong before about some things, but I just don’t see these devices being widely used. The ability to ask someone for guidance who isn’t there is a rare tool that could be useful in special situations. But that tool needs to be integrated into a device you already use, can’t be that costly, and can’t rely on a very small group of people to ask for help. I think of Taptapsee. It’s an app in your phone, it’s cheap, and lots of people are available to try and answer your questions. If, for example, while I’m at a hotel and want to know what’s shampoo or conditioner, I had to take a picture with a special device that costs an arm and a leg, then harass a small group of contacts for results, it would not work.

Also, talking to us like helpless little sheep who need to be led by the nose by our benevolent caregivers is not the attitude that a company should take when developing something that’s truly supposed to revolutionize our independence. How are we any more independent if the leash between us and some friend or family member is now over some cell network? Maybe it makes it easier for them, because they don’t have to follow us around, but it’s not really making us more independent.

Guh. Just guh. Maybe I’ll look back at this years from now and laugh. But I’m certainly in no hurry to grab a set of these glasses.

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