Technology startup xTactor has launched the early-access, first version of xBand, a wristband and companion app that informs users of notifications, calls, and texts on their smartphone through Morse Code vibrations. This technology enables people to communicate with their smartphones without the use of eyes or ears, especially benefiting individuals who have visual impairments.
According to xTactor, xBand complements existing assistive technologies and compensates for their drawbacks. Braille displays can be big and clunky, while screen readers and voice commands need a quiet environment to be used properly, and could compromise privacy. Sound-based technologies also require the use of the person’s hearing, distracting them from interacting and understanding their surroundings while in use.
xTactor says that there are various ways to encode vibration patterns to relay information, but it found that Morse Code is the right combination of simplicity of learning and speed/efficiency of relating a message. The xBand app has a Morse Code training module that can help learners quickly pick up the versatile encoding method.
Aside from vibrating to notify the user of incoming calls and text messages, the xBand can also reveal the identity of the person calling or texting, through short names or custom vibration patterns assigned by the user to their contacts, as well as a summary of the message's content. xBand employs artificial intelligence to condense the message into a few words, granting users a sneak peek of the content and a choice whether to read the full message immediately or at a later time.
The xBand’s watch function delivers the time through Morse Code, and it can be set to notify the user of the time at a specified interval. It includes other watch functions, such as alarm and countdown timer. The watch function is built in, with no need to be connected to a smartphone to work.
xBand users can also input commands and messages to their smartphone in Morse Code using buttons on the wrist band. xTactor is continually updating the xBand’s software, with new functionalities to be unlocked over the next few months. xTactor is also working on the next generation xBand, which includes an electromyographic sensor that reads the voltage differences in the user’s wrist and detects the nervous system’s electrical impulses to the hand muscles, allowing the device to read finger movements.
xTactor was founded in 2018 by Peter Idestam-Almquist, a researcher and serial entrepreneur who holds a PhD in artificial intelligence from Stockholm University, and his nephew, Ante Larsson, an engineer from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Idestam says that xTactor’s design philosophy is that technology should be as non-intrusive as possible, allowing people to live their lives supported by technology, but the technology should not take over.
According to Idestam, he was inspired to create xBand by the scientific research showing on the phenomenon of sensory substitution, where a sense is able to compensate for another that is absent or diminished. He says that studies have shown that the brain isn’t hard-wired to interpret the signals originating from the eyes and ears. This takes gradual learning, and the brain can also learn to interpret the signals originating from the skin as vision or sound. There have been technologies that use electric or vibration signals to allow blind people to “see” and deaf people to “hear”.
“The xBand is xTactor’s first product, harnessing technology and the brain’s plasticity to allow people to communicate with their smartphones without using their eyes and ears,” Idestam says. “At xTactor, we believe in communication without seeing and hearing, and we’re looking forward to developing more practical solutions that will make communication more inclusive.”
Name: Peter Idestam-Almquist
Email: [email protected]