Hong Kong startup Origami Labs boasts of having launched the world’s first smart ring, a sleek device called ORII that brings voice assistance right to your ears.
Paired with a mobile app, you can send short text messages, or even take a quick call instantaneously with just a simple touch on the ear, without having to flip out your phone or wear a headset device.
Co-founder Kevin Johan Wong says the initial idea for the wearable tech - that works through bone conductivity- was inspired by his father Peter, who is visually impaired and needed a screen-free alternative to interact with technology.
Accessibility through technology, is not about building products for blind people. What it is actually about is using blindness as a way to learn more about us as humans
After spending long nights working over coffee to create the initial prototype of the ring, Kevin and a group of MBA friends from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology developed the product in 2015.
Their mission? To change the way people communicate.
“It is something that was very much inspired by my dad, and to help people like him,” says Kevin. “My dad has been visually impaired since 13. For people like him, it’s very difficult to use screen based or touch based devices.”
“He made it his life objective for a period of time, to not only help himself but to be able to help people like him. I think that’s an amazing thing,” he adds. “The way he put it was that accessibility through technology, is not about building products for blind people. What it is actually about is using blindness as a way to learn more about us as humans, helping a small group of people can affect make something that’s beneficial to all of us.”
“I had a conversation with him and at the time the product was still built for the eyes where he told us that, one of the most basic thing that vision impaired people want or any disabled people wants is to be normal or to appear normal. So, in that way, I think, that’s what’s really inspired us to build it. It is about inclusion and not necessarily about, just targeting a group of people.”
Entrepreneurship runs in Kevin’s blood. His family owns a luxury watch retail business for three generations, which he helped run before venturing full time into entrepreneurship through Origami Labs.
In 2017, Kevin and team launched ORII on Kickstarter to an overwhelming response; they raised USD 333,000, ten times over their funding goal.
In an age where people are so tied to their smartphone screens, the Kickstarter success validated Origami Labs’ suspicion that consumers are increasingly looking for ways to be screen-free.
We call this a screen-free revolution
“Ours is a very interesting product in that, it doesn’t just appeal to gearheads or gadget heads. Who it appeals to are people that want an electronic product that’s more minimal - something that almost strips out some features but stays focused. They believe in being able to be separate from your screen,” says Kevin.
“We call this a screen-free revolution. It’s not to say you need to put away your phone all the time, but it allows us to be able to ignore the screen, a bit more than we do normally do.”
ORII’s aims to make interacting with tech more human. Asked about ORII’s potential in retail, Kevin says the wearable device, with its intuitive nature, could work well in the hospitality business.
“We’ve been approached by a lot of different industries but it’s just we don’t have the bandwidth to be able to pursue everything at once – which is why we like hospitality.”
“In hospitality, you have restaurants, (hotel) management, security, customer service, and also lobby management. These are the many different elements of customer-facing businesses.”
Watch the full interview with Kevin below: