In a modest office at BTP Northshore Hamilton, an inclusion technology startup has solved a really big problem for blind people. Along the way, Alkira Software has bridged the digital divide and made using the Web so easy you can do it with your eyes shut.
What began in 2012 as a small project to help a blind friend manage backend business software has evolved into a solution to the universal challenge of how to make Web communications simple and easy to use without interfering with design and architecture.
“All of us know someone who struggles using Websites and platforms,” says founder and CTO, Ray Guy. An elderly parent, a friend or relative with poor vision, or someone else who is just overwhelmed by the complexity of webpages.
Chief Blind Guy and CCO, Geoff Munck explains that the Web is vision centric with the apparent assumption being that everyone has the sight, dexterity and cognitive capacity of a fighter pilot. “But this is not reality,” he says. Chief Executive Officer, Simon Horne points to ABS statistics indicating that in line with OECD averages, around 44% of Australians, “do not have the necessary literacy levels to cope with the Web comfortably. Extrapolated, this is an enormous global market, so our trajectory is to go large and go fast,” Horne says.
“The onrush of the digital transformation of business has amplified this chasm in skills and capabilities in our communities resulting in digital disability and the alienation of large sectors of the audience of every business and institution,” says former Premier and now Alkira Software board member, Campbell Newman. “Every year governments and corporates spend tens of millions of dollars on programs to address the digital divide but still it grows: Newman says.
The ALKIRA solution combines machine learning and AI to deliver simply the easiest user experience possible of the Web. The two part process involves deploying automatic authoring tools to analyze the visible elements of published webpages and create a recipe that is then stored in the Cloud. These recipes are retrieved and translated into audible text for end users with the free ALKIRA software uploaded on their desktop or portable device. Moreover, the clever incorporation of the best aspects of Voice Recognition, Optical Character Recognition and Text To Speech protocols enables users to navigate, retrieve and transact on the Web with voice, touch and keyboard, whichever suits their purpose best, without touching or interfering with architecture or design.
“The ability to do something as fundamental as complete transactions puts ALKIRA years ahead of Silicon Valley which has only just discovered retrieval voice services,” says Horne.
“ALKIRA has the power to transform the lives of the blind and others who struggle to read Web content,” says Munck, himself blind since birth. “It has changed what used to be a slow, frustrating and demeaning experience for me into a quick, comfortable and dignified one,” says blind ALKIRA user, Lanie Heath.
“Prevailing assistive technologies have not kept pace with rapidly changing online communication designs,” explains Sales consultant, Rudi Bam. “Certainly they have facilitated AN experience of online services, but the additional assistive equipment is expensive for individuals to acquire, complex to operate and slow. An experience, yes… but far from comfortable and certainly not comparable to that of the rest of the audience,” he said.
ALKIRA is turning all this on its ear with the support and assistance of Aus Industries, Accelerated Commercialization and Advance Queensland Ignite grants totaling nearly $400,000 plus venture capital from the Brisbane and Melbourne Angels networks of about $200,000.
ALKIRA is now in the market. First adopter clients include the Brisbane City Council, Noosa Shire Council, RACQ, with trials underway with ALDI, Vision Australia, QUT, UQ and the LGAQ, just for starters. ALKIRA has built the bridge over the digital divide and ushered in a new benchmark for Web user experience that is easy, simple, and inclusive. And it is all happening here… at BTP Northshore Hamilton.
Content supplied by Simon Horne.