Andreas Forsland spent seven weeks sitting next to his mother, who was on life support and intubated, struggling to survive in an ICU unit in Santa Barbara, California. She was diagnosed with severe pneumonia, septic shock and kidney failure. But the 70-year-old surprised the staff by recovering from her serious condition.
Despite the heartache of watching his mother suffering and unable to speak, Forsland drew some good from the experience in July 2013.
It planted the seed for what would eventually be called a Smartstones Touch, a device that fits in the palm of the hand and lets those who can’t speak communicate.
“I was sort of desperate,” Forsland, who was then a manager at a busy software company, told Not Impossible Now. “I wished I had something that I could give her that she could hold in her hand … and then send me a simple message that said, “Hey, I need you,” or “It’s an emergency,” or “I’m doing fine.”
Forsland and his colleagues started working on an early version of the Smartstones Touch and in November 2013 presented it at a Startup Weekend, a 54-hour boot camp for new companies, this one held in Santa Barbara. They were recognized for best physical product and deemed most likely to attract investors on the Internet. Forsland quit his job as senior director at Citrix in January 2014 so he could work full time at Smartstones, Inc.
The company isn’t selling Smartstones yet, but it’s taking pre-orders as part of their Indiegogo campaign to raise money for manufacturing and distribution. As part of its pitch, Smartstones asks donors to help transform the world of communication.
Smartstones set a goal of raising $50,000 by April 11 but says whether the company reaches its goal will not affect production plans. How many Smartstones Touches the company produces will be based on how many pre-orders are placed at the time the company goes to production, Lucas Cohen, a company spokesman, said in an email. Smartstones Touch will still be available for pre-order after April 11 at Smartstones.co.
The top surface of the Smartstones device is sensitive to the touch, similar to a smartphone screen. The Smartstones Touch connects to an iPhone or an Android device using Bluetooth Low Energy. Forsland says the Smartstones Touch is simple to program and handle. The first step is to download the company’s app, called “Prose” onto an iPhone or Android device, which in turn programs the Smartstones. That opens up a list of 12 gestures. (Many more are planned.) Once a gesture is selected, Forsland says, any message can be created for it.
“Just for example, a swipe up is ‘I’m on my way,’ A long hold is ‘I’m thinking of you’ and a vigorous shake would be ‘It’s an emergency. Come now,’” Forsland explained. “It’s really small and easy to hold in the hand. It doesn’t require two hands to send a message. You can do it with your thumb.”
The Smartstones send verbal messages to phones, using voices like those on GPS services. They can be programmed in 40 languages. They send sounds and lights to other Smartstones. For example, Forsland says, one might program a Smartstones Touch to send urgent flashing red lights and an alarm tone in an emergency. If everything is going well, one might send soothing blue lights and a gently pulsing tone. The Smartstones Touch offers over one million colors to work with in configuring a message.
Inside the palm-sized device is a mass of micro-technology: a number of touch and motion sensors; a gyroscope, which can detect someone falling; a Bluetooth chip; a microprocessor; low-energy, longer-life LED lights; a gesture recognition library and a haptic motor, which produces various vibration patterns.
Smartstones says on its Indiegogo page that it has worked with the blind, autistic and elderly in developing its communication device. It has also worked with academic researchers, Ph.D.’s and scientists, according to the page.
“When one out of 68 children [is] born with some form of autism, 285 million people are visually impaired, and 360 million people have disabling hearing loss, accessibility becomes imperative in truly break-through technology,” the Indiegogo page reads. “These massive communities of people with communication challenges are underserved by mainstream technology, and specialized technology often costs ridiculous and arbitrary sums.”
Top photo courtesy of Smartstones’ Indiegogo page