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Unar Labs Back Story

Awardee Story Unar Labs Back Story

Source: Company Data ( click here to go to the source)

It all started in 2010, when Saranya (Hari's wife) came to pursue her Master's degree at UMaine under Nick's mentorship. She was in contact with Nick via email and skype for more than 8 months prior to joining him at Umaine. At their first meeting, she was taken completely by surprise when Nick showed up with his guide dog 'Uro', as she hadn't realized that Nick is visually impaired. Hari (who was working as a software engineer) was naturally intrigued and wanted to know more about Nick and what tools he used in order to have become so successful in his career. This interest led Hari to the world of assistive technologies, where he is now immersed.

As somebody who loves to build on his curiosity, Hari started an awkward email conversation with Nick asking about how he overcomes his blindness. To which, Nick humbly responded "your life activities primarily rely on vision, while mine primarily rely on touch and audio. Beyond that, there is not much difference as we both are accessing, inferring and using the information around us to experience the world and do what needs getting done." Nick's response made a profound impact on Hari, which subsequently convinced him to quit his job and join Nick as a graduate student at UMaine in 2011.

It was also 2011 when the proliferation of touchscreen-based devices truly began to surge. One of Nick's graduate students, Monoj Raja, was studying the idea of utilizing vibration from touchscreen devices to convey indoor maps to blind users. Following on this initial work, Nick and Hari started discussing how touch and audio capabilities of commercial smartphones and tablets could be leveraged to provide non-visual access to all matter of visual graphical information. They developed a prototype with the vision of creating a graphic screen reader for the blind. Enthusiasm from blind users during their initial usability testing clearly indicated that their approach is viable and confirmed that they were on the right path towards solving a significant information access problem faced by millions of blind individuals.

For the past eight years, they have worked on perfecting their invention to deliver on their mission: To empower people with visual-impairments by providing dynamic access to digital information and graphical content through a combination of visual, auditory, and haptic feedback.