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Listen to the Assistive Technology Update Podcast – RealSAM Pocket with Anat Nulman

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Join Josh Miller with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in conversation with Anat Nulman discussing the latest about the RealSAM Pocket – a first of it’s kind voice-operated smartphone.

Below is insert of the transcript about the RealSAM Pocket. To listen to the full interview, please visit the Easterseals Crossroads Assistive Technology Update Podcast page. 

To learn more about the RealSAM Pocket, contact us and one of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, if you’ve ever utilized a smartphone, the learning curve can be a little steep. If you’re blind or low vision, that curve becomes a little steeper as you must learn to navigate swipes, taps, and other gestures just to control the device. Well, our guest today is Anat Nulman, Business Development Director for the US for RealThing AI. And she’s here to tell us about the RealSAM Pocket and discuss how it might be able to assist with flattening that learning curve. And now, welcome to the show.

Anat Nulman:
Hi Josh. Thanks for hosting me. It’s great to be here.

Josh Anderson:
I am very excited to talk about this technology. But before we get started, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Anat Nulman:
Sure. Absolutely. I have been in the assistive technology field for about nine years. I used to work for  another technology company that offers products for folks who are visually impaired. And about a year ago, I joined the RealThing AI because I thought it was a great company to work for and also a great product that fills the need in the market. The reason I like the company is because the management is very open to working from within the industry and really become part of the solution as opposed to just pushing products onto our users who are visually impaired. And the reason I like the phone is because we have a need in the market that currently is not met. There are commercially available phones, such as an iPhone and different Android devices, that are fantastic if you’re able to use them. And like you mentioned, many of the users struggle with all the accessibility features and the complexities. So RealSam Pocket really offers an alternative for those for whom commercially available phones are just too complex and too difficult to use.

Josh Anderson:
And you already gave me a really good leeway. Let’s talk about the RealSAM Pocket. How does this compare to the iPhone or the Android phone or those different kinds of phones?

Anat Nulman:
So RealSam Pocket is your modern smartphone. We are a software company. So we do what we do well, software, and we don’t dive into areas that we don’t know well, which is hardware. So we use Samsung Galaxy devices in the US and we put our software on it, and that becomes a RealSam Pocket. Now the major difference is when you look at the screen, for those who are sighted, the glaring difference is there’s not much that’s happening on the screen. There are no apps to scroll through. The only two things you have on the screen are a very large tap to talk virtual button that takes about 20% at the bottom of the screen, and a small hamburger menu on the top left corner that you can open for some settings and additional things. All of the apps and all of the functionality that’s available is available by voice. RealSam Pocket, unlike other phones, has been designed from the get-go to be a voice-operated device as opposed to a visual phone.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And when you say voice-activated, what all kinds of things can I use it for with just my voice?

Anat Nulman:
You can do a lot of things. RealSam Pocket is a closed system. We focus on the user experience and like I mentioned earlier, we really want to offer a phone that is easy to use and friendly for our users. We don’t allow downloading any additional apps at the moment because we really want to make sure that everything works properly with the “tap to talk” functionality. So the way the phone works is that you tap on the screen on that large button at the bottom of the screen and you say what you want it to do. You can say, “Call Josh. Read me a book. Open magnifier. Open Be My Eyes. Where am I? What’s in front of me?” So we do have three sets of functionality that we call: communications, digital assistant, and entertainment/news. Under communications, our users have the ability to make and receive phone calls, send and receive messages, add contact by voice, which by the way is not available on an iPhone, for example. We also have a companion website if somebody, for example, wants to move a large number of contacts from their previous phone, or if they have them in the spreadsheet, they can just upload it, and then that syncs with the phone instantaneously. On the digital assistant side, we have two types of tools. We have informational tools and we have blindness support tools. Under informational tools, we have things like Where am I? If you ask, “Where am I?” it will give you your address and cross streets. You can ask, “What’s around here?” It will give you the names of businesses in the area that you’re currently in. You can ask for the time and weather in different places in the world. We also have smart reminders. So you can say things like, “Remind me to call a doctor in three hours,” or, “Remind me to turn off the oven in 40 minutes. ” Then in the blindness support tools area, we have four tools. We have direct integration with Be My Eyes, which is a third-party service that employs volunteers that use the camera on the phone to see and help you find things and do things. We have digital magnifier with different color contrasting options. We have OCR, which is the ability to read text. And that includes the ability to read handwriting, which is really exciting because there’re only very few products out there that can read handwriting. And then we have object recognition in beta. The last pillar of functionality is content. We have access to four different book libraries, a ton of radio, stations, a newspaper, and a set of podcasts, including our own curated RealSam collection, where we assemble podcasts by blind people for blind people and make it available to our users.

Josh Anderson:
That is really cool. And I love that you brought up that you can’t put in a contact by voice on an iPhone because that has annoyed me for years and years and years. And I was actually helping someone who was visually impaired and when I learned that, because we tried for, I don’t know, half an hour and then both were just very mad at the phone. So I love that you decided to put that in there. That’s really great. And it’s great that I could just use my voice to do those because like I said at the opening, that’s where people seem to always get frustrated, is in the controls and really getting it to all work. So with the voice commands, are they very, very specific or if I get close, will it do it? And what I mean by that is I know sometimes with some different voice assistants, I’ve got to be really right-on with what I’m saying. Is there leeway in those commands or are they pretty specific on what I have to say?

Anat Nulman:
I’m glad you asked, Josh. So let me answer this question with just a little bit of background on our technology. There’re really three types of voice technologies in terms of how they manifest themselves for the users. So you have voice dialogue, you have voice commands, and you have AVR. AVR is the simplest one. This is when, for example, you call your doctor’s office and it says, “Press one to schedule an appointment. Press two to pay your bill. Press three to do something else.” So this is very, very specific. You have to press or say one, two, three. To do anything else, the system doesn’t understand you. The second level above that is voice commands. With voice commands, devices that operate on voice commands, including Siri, by the way and Alexa, is that you have to say things in this very specific way. There’s a little bit of leeway of how you pronounce things. Maybe there’s a little bit of synonyms. But you have to be pretty specific and you can only do one thing at a time. What powers RealSAM Pocket is what is called voice dialogue. Voice dialogue allows for rewarding conversations and interactions between humans and devices. Now what does that really mean? That means that one, you can do multiple things, and two, you don’t have to be very specific of how you say things. So with doing multiple things, for example, if you reading a book or the phone is reading book to you and then you get a phone call, you talk on the phone, you finish that phone call. When your phone call is over, RealSAM Pocket will mention to you, will say something like, “It looks like you are reading this book,” and will tell you the name of the book. “Would you like to resume from where you stopped?” Other devices cannot do that. And that’s a great help. The second point is that to answer your question with a little bit winded way, is that there is a little bit more flexibility of how you can say things. RealSAM Pocket is programmed to understand specific functionality that’s available. So if you ask, “Where is the moon?” It doesn’t know where the moon is because that hasn’t been programmed. But if you want to make a phone call, you can say, “Make a phone call. I want to call somebody,” call somebody, or dial somebody, there are multiple ways of saying the same thing and the device will understand it.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. I just know that’s a big hang-up for a lot of folks sometimes. And it is frustrating if I sit there and I know what I want to do, I just don’t remember exactly what the command was. So I love that you guys thought to put that in there and give you a little bit of leeway and some different choices on what to do. So let’s say… And not that… I do get this phone. Can I put it on any carrier? Does it have its own plan? How does that work?

Anat Nulman:
Yeah. Like I mentioned earlier, we’re using Samsung Galaxy phones in the US and they are completely unlocked. When we were selecting a handset, we wanted to make sure that we offer our users the flexibility that they need. So the phone in the US is completely unlocked. You can put whatever SIM card you want in it and it will work. You may need to restart your phone. If you’re using a discount carrier, you may have to activate your SIM card somewhere else. But once you’ve done that, you can use it without any problems. I also want to mention along the same lines is that the phone can be connected to wifi. So we do recommend that if people have wifi in their home, they connect it to wifi so they don’t use up all of their data. And it can also be connected to Bluetooth devices such as speakers and earphones. And we also know that it can be directly connected to Phonak hearing aids, which is really important because a lot of our users are elderly. And unfortunately, vision loss and hearing loss sometimes go hand in hand. We are currently testing compatibility with other hearing aids, but we know for sure that Phonak works.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent. And now I have to ask, where did this idea come from?

Anat Nulman:
Our company, which is called RealThing AI, is an Australian company. We’ve been around for about 10 years. Originally, our founders came from aerospace industry, but they wanted to do something more consumer-focused. They had little kids. They wanted something that they can tell their kids about and the kids could understand what they do. So the original idea was to create a smart toy and that didn’t go too far. In the meantime, a close friend of our founders is a guy named Graeme Innes. And at the time, Graeme Innes was the Australian commissioner on disabilities, and he is a totally blind individual. He said back then, “Listen, guys. You are smart and I need your help. I really would like to read newspapers on the day that they come out and not three days later when they’re transcribed or translated into an accessible format.” And our founders said, “Not a problem, Graeme. We can do it for you.” We started really as a media reader. And then fast-forward a few years later, we got invited to the UK by Royal National Institute for the Blind or RNIB in short, because they were developing their own book reader, and they had a name for it, RNIB In Your Pocket. And so through a competitive bid, we won that contract and we designed that book reader for RNIB. However, we used a handset, a phone, as a device. So we said, “We’re using a phone, but it’s only a book reader. Should we turn it into a phone?” That’s how RealSam Pocket was born. We have been selling RealSam Pocket in the UK for over four years. Last year, we rebranded RNIB In Your Pocket to RealSam Pocket because it’s a much shorter name and easier to pronounce, and we just launched it in the US.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. I love the way that it started as a low vision and blindness tool and then morphed into, “Hey. We’re already using this device. Let’s make it do more.” So very, very, very cool. I always love to hear where the ideas come from for devices.

Anat Nulman:
Right. I probably should mention that the reason we came to the US is because we had a similar contract that we had with RNIB, but in the US, is with National Library Service, with NLS. We won a very competitive bid to prototype some of their products, including NLS’s book reader. And it’s a five-year contract and we are in year four right now.

Josh Anderson:
And I know you said that this has been available in the UK for a while, and you’ve kind of had it. So I’m sure you probably have quite a few of these, but can you tell me a story about someone’s experience utilizing the RealSam Pocket and how it made a difference in their life?

Anat Nulman:
Well, I can tell you a story of our beta user in the US because that’s something that’s close to me, and I was part of it. A few months ago, I was in Texas visiting our local distributor and our channel partners. And one of the clinics we work with said, “We have a gentleman whose name is Mike, and he might be great beta tester for you.” And I said, “Great. I would love to meet Mike.” So Mike and his wife and I met, and Mike is an elderly gentleman, very low vision, almost blind. And he is a mathematician. He wrote several books, incredibly sharp, but was struggling with an iPhone. He did have a flip phone before that, but it wasn’t working super well for him either. We gave him a RealSam Pocket. I spent some time with him, training him and his wife. And he reported to me over the next few months that he’s been able to master it. He completely moved from his old phone to RealSam Pocket. And he told us that communicating, sending messages and calling, became much, much easier. That was a big pain point for him. He is successful reading books because he loves reading books, and he loves it.

Josh Anderson:
That’s awesome. Yeah. I can see how it can definitely open up a whole world to a lot of folks. I still work with folks that miss their old flip phone just because it had tactile buttons and that’s what they wanted. But like you said, you can make calls with it maybe if you know where those buttons are, but that’s about it. Trying to get to a voicemail or something could be a bit of a challenge sometimes.

Anat Nulman:
Well, another point here is that while RealSam Pocket makes communicating easy, and that’s really the intrinsic value of it, being able to get a hold of your loved ones very, very easily, it does a lot of other things. It gives you access to books, which keeps you entertained, news, information. You have blindness support tools. You can read a handwritten note or a Christmas card that somebody sends to you. There’s a lot more than just a simple phone can do.

Josh Anderson:
Oh. For sure. For sure. Well, and I mean, just having the access to Be My Eyes for when you do need that sighted assistant. As you said, having that OCR, being able to read signs, paperwork, other things like that really opens up a whole heck of a lot of doors, and you’re not having to swipe, tap, and all these things to try to find the correct app to open and do it. Just being able to ask for it is so, so, so much easier. If our listeners want to find out more about RealSam Pocket or maybe even get their own, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Anat Nulman:
I think the easiest way is to go to our website, which is realsam.us. And it’s spelled R-E-A-L-S-A-M dot US. There, we have our phone number, our email, and a contact form. Contact us. We’ll get in touch with you right away and answer all of your questions. We also have a network of local distributors. So if you’re already working with an assistive technology distributor, you’re welcome to ask them. We obviously don’t work with everybody yet, but we are trying to make it as available as possible.

Josh Anderson:
That is awesome. And I guess the last thing I really do have to ask is Anat, is there anything in the pipeline? What’s next? Are you guys working on anything new, new features to add, or is there anything you’re allowed to tell us about?

Anat Nulman:
Well, we are a technology company and a software company, so that goes without saying. We’re working on a lot of different things. One of the exciting things that we’re working on is what we call Escape to Android. Like I mentioned earlier, our feature set is locked. So users are not able to download any additional apps. [inaudible 00:24:08] they do get two years, at least two years of free software updates. So anytime we have anything new in the next two years from the time they purchased or got their device, they’ll get those updates for free and they will be just over the air and it will be pushed to their devices seamlessly. However, we understand that some of our users may want to use additional apps that are not available on RealSAM. So we’re working on a way to give them access to some of those apps that will not be available on tap and talk RealSAM platform, but will be available through Escape to Android. So you, for example, would be able to say, “Open Facebook,” and then a Facebook app will open, and then our users will have to use voiceover or native accessibility features of the Samsung phone to access those features. These will be advanced features and probably not everybody is going to use them. But I think some of our users will appreciate that.

Josh Anderson:
Oh yeah. Your much more skilled users of those folks that pick everything up or maybe have a little bit more usable vision. I can see how that would be great. It opens up for them. But yet, you still have the option of just having that voice control so that you don’t have to access the whole thing if you don’t want to. That’d always be a great thing.

Anat Nulman:
Correct. So we will have our core features that are within the RealSAM experience and additional, more advanced features through regular Android accessibility, but they still will be there for those who need and want to use them.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Well, Anat, thank you so much for coming on the show today, telling us all the amazing things about the RealSam Pocket and the cool things that you guys do there at RealThing AI.

Anat Nulman:
Josh, I really appreciate that. Thank you so much for talking with me and I’m looking forward to answering questions from your listeners.

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