Crowdsourcing Innovation: Davide Valeriani and Ana Matran-Fernandez, EyeWink

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

[image_library_tag bf584056-a33a-4181-ba33-aa853230dd28 170x105 alt="eyewinkteam" title="eyewinkteam" width="170" height="105"class="left "] Name: Davide Valeriani and Ana Matran-Fernandez

 Job title: Co-Founders

 Organisation: EyeWink

 Location: Colchester, United Kingdom


Product: EyeWink

[image_library_tag d1b67acd-88b4-4044-bf1d-73373c0db4a3 580x358 alt="eyewinkapp" title="eyewinkapp" width="580" height="358"class="center "]

What it does & how it works:

EyeWink is a wearable device that allows a user to control his/her smartphone by means of sequences of eye winks and (voluntary) eye blinks. It works by detecting potentials around the eyes through a pair of electrodes, and sending them to the phone, that can interpret these signals as winks and use them as commands to control different apps. EyeWink includes a smartphone app that allows the user to select which apps he/she would like to control with the eyes (for example, the music player or the phone functionality).

What makes it special:

EyeWink allows the user to control the smartphone hands- and voice-free, hence promoting multitasking and reducing the stress. Other interfaces based on eye tracking or voice recognition require the users to hold the smartphone in front of them or to be in a quiet environment.

EyeWink is the only interface that allows interaction with the smartphone through muscular activity from the face, hence being immune to ambient noise and lighting conditions. Moreover, its design makes it suitable not only for people that want to control the smartphone while they have their hands busy, but also for users with severe motor disabilities that could not use the phone otherwise.

EyeWink is based on open-source hardware that will allow it to be distributed at a very competitive price, making it affordable for everyone. It is not a device for a small niche of people: it is a unique innovative interface to control the smartphone and, in the future, any device with eye winks.

What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

Our team is composed of two engineers doing a PhD on Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs), devices that interpret information from brain signals into commands to control an external device. Interestingly, in a BCI you’d like to get rid of any blinks because they affect the actual neural signals you record with it. However, blinks are easy to detect, so one day we thought of using them for something useful instead. With the current technology in electronics, it is not possible to record the tiny EEG signals when a person is walking, but eye winks and blinks are still detectable and, thus, can be used while on the move.

We used HackTheBrain UK (the first hackathon for neuroscientists) as an occasion to develop the idea and after winning the event and collecting very positive feedback in the London Science Museum, we decided to bring it to the market.

Why Hubbub?

Click was launched by the University of Essex just when we were considering to launch a crowdfunding campaign and looking at different platforms (e.g., Kickstarter and Indiegogo). The University was offering to match the first £1000 and they were also taking care of the fees, so we wouldn’t have to pay to host our project and we would get all the money from the donations. Moreover, the University gave us a lot of support to develop EyeWink both as a product and as a start-up, so we decided to join them in this venture.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

We think that it is great! Crowdfunding is a very good way to put your idea in the open and get a first feel of whether the public like it or not. It is great for getting the money that new innovators or small groups need to finish the development of their product without renouncing to parts of their company.

It is also great for a start-up looking for seed funding to develop a hardware product (like EyeWink), since it is very difficult to obtain other sources of funding (e.g. private investors) in the initial stages if you can’t show a full prototype of the product.

Reactions on Hubbub so far?

We started a 5-week long campaign on the 10th of November with the main goal of raising £10,000. In the first two weeks, we reached £2,000 and a week later we reached our minimum goal. We still have two weeks before the end of the campaign, so we are very optimistic.

What have you learned from your campaign?

Networking is very important. Attending events, talking about your product to as many people as possible and, in general, creating the “momentum” is vital for the success of a campaign. But also a well-designed video promoting your campaign is very important. It took us around three weeks to design and produce all the marketing materials we needed for the campaign, but in the end the time we spent was worth.

We’ve received lots of support from our family and friends, but also from a lot of people we don’t know, and this is exactly the aim of crowdfunding. We also received very useful feedback on EyeWink and ideas for future development. We believe it is very important to stay in touch with the community and learn from them what it is they need and/or want from a device such as ours.

When is the product due to ship?

We estimate to ship the first batch of our product on June 2016. Then, we hopefully will be ready for large-scale production.