ParrotOne will deliver the digital promise to millions of impaired users

5 Mar 2018

From left: Robert Dziubłowski and Piotr Lewandowski. Image: ParrotOne

Our Start-up of the Week is Warsaw-based ParrotOne, which has developed a multi-messenger app and hardware for users with physical and motor disabilities.

“Imagine a world where you are stuck in a wheelchair and using a standard keyboard is exhausting,” said Piotr Lewandowski, founder and CEO of ParrotOne.

“Typing even the simplest answer takes you many times longer than [it does] for other people.

‘We work on ParrotOne to battle digital exclusion of the disabled’

Future Human

“A world in which the internet is your only means of living the way you want to, and independently from others – this is the world of about 7.5pc of the world’s population. And that is why we created ParrotOne, the multi-messenger app and hardware – a smart-touch keyboard designed specifically for users with physical and motor disabilities.”

Lewandowski said that ParrotOne solves actual problems.

“Even this alone clearly sets us apart from many start-up ideas with a rather weak foundation in reality.”

The entire functionality (built-in solutions and the user interface) is tailored to make typing as easy and as fast as possible, given the user’s physical limitations.

The app includes support for SMS, Gmail, Facebook and more.

Lewandowski said that in its final form, the hardware will be a smart-touch keyboard that will be compatible with all operating systems (Android, Mac, iOS and Windows) and acts just like a physical keyboard.

“It already feels like an upgrade – once you’re hooked, you cannot remember what it was like to live and communicate without it.”

The market

ParrotOne is primarily focused on reaching manually impaired users of mobiles, laptops, tablets and PCs.

“However, having in mind the solutions we applied in our app and our keyboard, we hope to attract the elderly, deaf and the youth as well.

“Although these users are able to operate a standard keyboard, using the in-app predictions, including ready-to-use, grammatically correct phrases, could greatly improve their message-writing speed and correctness.

“Our indirect competitors are mobile keyboard apps such as Swype that assist in typing. Nevertheless, we are targeting an entirely different kind of user, which calls for a different user interface and different solutions. Apart from that, our app is going to be compatible with mobile keyboard apps.”

The founder

The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention. Being able to easily type, and therefore communicate with friends, is one of the basic human needs in the 21st century.

Lewandowski has CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth), a neuropathy disease that makes his muscles weaker.

He is able to type with only two fingers, one on each hand.

He has managed to overcome his impairment by creating ParrotOne. “Hundreds of millions of people worldwide face similar challenges. We work on ParrotOne to battle digital exclusion of the disabled.”

The technology

Created with the needs of the manually impaired user in mind, the interface relies on big visual elements, and makes the entire screen available for the purpose of forming messages.

‘Some day, our solutions will be known to most disabled people all over the world’

“Our AI learns the way users form messages, and gradually offers more accurate text predictions – not just words, but actually complete, ready-to-use phrases.

“Using predictions as ‘bricks’ is much easier and faster than typing phrases letter by letter – not only for the disabled, but also for elderly people or children.

“An advantage that our app offers it that it’s compatible with mobile keypads and their predictive systems. This is crucially important, as forcing a disabled person to switch from a keyboard app that they have been accustomed to is the worst kind of user experience one can offer to this user group.

“Our app does not force the user to change their keyboard system, allowing them to continue using it instead, keeping the predictive system, layout, key shape, colours or even the sounds it makes,” Lewandowski explained.

“For disabled people, the internet is something like a window to the world. With ParrotOne, we can easily open this window wide. Our mission is to help disabled people worldwide.

“That’s why we want to make communication easier for those who struggle with it, and make it actually possible to those who are unable to communicate with the currently available solutions.

“The ParrotOne mobile app and hardware touch keyboard will offer built-in support for numerous languages on Android, iOS and desktop devices (Windows 7-10 and macOS).

“Some day, our solutions will be known to most disabled people all over the world,” he predicted.

Accuracy and AI

The ParrotOne application is now an advanced prototype.

“We are expanding its vocabulary so it can suggest more accurate word and phrase predictions. An additional function in ParrotOne allows the user to translate the phrases to and from English. However, we would like to expand by offering multiple foreign languages on top of English.

“Additionally, we have just started building our touch-sensitive keyboard – a great addition for those who are depending on devices without touchscreens.

“Both of our tools will supplement each other, although they will not be mutually dependent. Are we looking to attract an investor? Yes. For now, money is the key ingredient that we are currently missing. However, we have not yet met a challenge we couldn’t overcome. We are looking for an investor, and we are far from giving up.”

Smart perseverance

Lewandowski said it is well known that every project has its challenges.

“So far, we were able to overcome most of them. Our team consists of a group of friends and idealists completely devoted to ParrotOne’s development.

“However, like most start-ups, we’ve reached a point where further advancement requires a sole focus as well as considerable funding.”

ParrotOne was recently awarded first prize in the Application Without Barriers 2017 competition and Best ICT Start-up in the StartTech competition.

“We also gained recognition in the City Tech Accelerator for the CEE region, and we have qualified as the best Polish Creative Start-up at the Startup Europe Awards 2017. Nevertheless, to truly stimulate ParrotOne’s growth, we need more funding.

“What we have gained so far, in comparison with what we want to achieve, seems like a drop in an ocean.”

Lewandowski observed that the European start-up scene seems less developed than the US one.

“It also means a huge growth potential of European markets. We notice significant competence in European workers and entrepreneurs, especially in IT and – due to healthcare public policies – in biotech and pharma.

“The most important virtue of a start-up is smart perseverance – something that guides you.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years