Imagine being able to hear, see, and think — but unable to communicate with anyone, not by speaking, gestures, or any other method, other than by blinking or otherwise moving your eyes. That’s the reality for hundreds of thousands of people around the world who suffer from Locked-In Syndrome (LIS), a condition that affects victims of stroke, ALS, and other diseases or events that essentially leaves them “comatose,” but fully conscious.

Most of us are unable to fathom the feelings of frustration, helplessness, and depression of many LIS victims — but now imagine that a device could be developed that would enable these patients to come out of their LIS “shell,” to be able to communicate with others, and make their feelings, thoughts, and needs known, essentially returning to them the power of speech, putting them back in control of their lives. That’s the technology we are developing at EyeControl — and thanks to the WeWork Creator Award that we received this year, we’re a major step closer to turning our vision into a reality.

Communication is a basic human need, and losing the ability to communicate has serious implications on a person’s relationships and their overall well-being. As a result, several solutions have been developed for LIS victims — but the those solutions are cumbersome and costly. And, they can only be used when an individual is sitting in front of a screen — meaning that they won’t help when the user is  in bed, in the bathroom, or on the road.

EyeControl solves those problems. EyeControl is a lightweight, portable, and easy to use device that can be worn 24/7. Using an infrared camera connected to a simple glasses frame, our technology tracks intuitive eye gestures — blinks, eye movements, pupil changes — and, via headphones, a speaker, or a bluetooth-connected device, translates the user’s eye direction and movements into commands. EyeControl thus opens the world of communication for the locked-in, enabling them to connect with their caregivers and loved ones — and making for a more inclusive and just world.

And the Creator Award is playing a key role in helping us build that world. We’ve been developing the EyeControl product since late 2014, and started the company at the beginning of 2016. Upon creating functioning prototypes and a go-to-market strategy, we recognized the opportunity to share our device with the wider community in order to spread awareness for locked-in syndromes such as ALS, and give hope to prospective users, and the WeWork Creator Awards provided us with the perfect platform to reach them. WeWork is a global company recognized and respected by millions, and having WeWork as a partner and receiving their support and mentorship has been invaluable in helping us build our company.

With the funding that came from the Award, we’ve been able to acquire the necessary certifications and ensure compliance with the relevant regulations, enabling us to move towards a go-to-market strategy to help locked-in individuals globally. We’ve also used the money to expand our team, recruiting individuals for every department in the company, including our research and development team, who continue to strive to create a revolutionary device for locked-in individuals.

We’re very motivated to move ahead; that, for us, has been another gift of the Award. Since winning the Creator Award, along with the accompanying publicity, we have received messages of appreciation from caregivers, potential users and their loved ones, driving us to continue our work to create an accessible and revolutionary device. Additionally, through the unparalleled exposure that WeWork has provided, we have gained new partners who have joined us in our mission.

Israel is commonly referred to as the “Startup Nation, and it is the ideal place to turn a vision into reality; it’s the perfect place for companies like ours to develop our vision, with the help of Israel’s world-class entrepreneurs, engineers, and dreamers. Anyone with a vision to help others should be a part of WeWork’s Creator Awards; the advantages are amazing. WeWork offers exposure and support, both financially and through professional mentoring, throughout all stages, providing you with invaluable tools to succeed. If you want to bring your project to the people who really need it, the WeWork Creator Awards are a great way to do that.

RSVP for the Creator Jerusalem event on June 20: https://we.co/jerusalem-creator

Or Retzkin is an Israeli entrepreneur and a member of the remarkable EyeControl team that is pushing boundaries to re-empower locked-in individuals. EyeControl advanced from the regional event in Tel Aviv last year to win the second highest prize at the Creator Awards Global Finals in New York City in January 2017.

___

In this unique partnership between the Times of Israel and WeWork’s Creator Awards, we invite you to meet innovators from across the country and learn more about their stories and how they are making the world a better place.