We talked to Hugo Jacome, Co-founder & President of Talov on how they design accessible technology for everyone, especially for people with disabilities and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Hugo Jácome: My family and I are trying to be safe & healthy by staying home as much as possible and following the recommendations.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Talov.
Hugo Jácome: I’m a Musician (Classical Guitarist with later Flamenco & Latin-American influence) since early childhood, I had my first contact with computer science being a teenager and started to code. Serial entrepreneur in the fields of music production and technology development, co-founder of MidSide music & recording studio and ATBS (a technology research & development company). My academic background is Music by George Gershwin Conservatory (Ecuador), Acoustical Engineering and MBA (International Business specialized) by the University of the Americas (Ecuador).
By 2007-2008 I started to write the code of software intended to create real-time visuals for music performance, but right away I discovered the social potential impact of this for people with hearing disability, you can see a video about this work here (it’s in Spanish, but YouTube subtitles may help). In parallel, my co-founder Carlos Obando was researching about mobile apps at that time (remember that the App Store in 2008 was just born). We didn’t know each other’s work and continued our jobs as University professors, until 2016 when we had a friends meeting (Carlos and I were high school classmates) and discussed what both of us had been doing all these years and immediately we discovered that joining our independent research endeavors can result in something interesting. That’s how together with Carlos Obando we co-founded Talov and I currently work as President, but also lead Artificial Intelligence models development, Digital Signal Processing, and PR affairs. Talov has received many international awards by its work, but the main achievement is changing lives in more than 80 countries.
How does Talov innovate?
Hugo Jácome: Talov innovates by putting cutting edge technology for serving people with disabilities in their mobile phones. Specifically Artificial Intelligence is the core of our services, we make it work for accessibility
. Talov researches for all the range of disabilities, but now we have two products in the market:
· SpeakLiz for deaf people: understand sign languages through the phone camera, identify surrounding sounds, transcribe human voices, etc.
· Vision for blind people: accessible maps navigation, identify objects and their relative position, estimate distances, identify money bills of many world currencies, read texts, know colors, and more.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Hugo Jácome: In our specific case, the difficult choices were more related to migrating a lot of activities to an online mode, rather than dispense of teammates or anything similar. Fortunately, being a digital business helped us to absorb better the pandemic’s blow, but we cannot be relaxed because the scenarios can change quickly and dramatically, and we always have to be alert to act fast. The main lesson is to be conscious of our own core mission, and despite the economic hardship with our decreased sales due to COVID-19, we continue with the most delicate social part of that mission: keeping alive our program of technology access for people with disabilities in the most vulnerable conditions.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Hugo Jácome: Apart from video conferencing options and the common tech tools used for software development that already can be considered as cloud tools, for this specific pandemic time we had to migrate a lot of data to secure cloud storage services, making Artificial Intelligence requires tons of information, especially the intended one for datasets.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Hugo Jácome: That’s an interesting question. Often, we could get afraid of some of our competitors (Microsoft with SeeingAI app, or Google with Lookout & Transcribe apps), but honestly this is amazing for us because it pushes our work beyond limits, most of them have nice features, other ones doesn’t have good performance or enough features, but they all have a pain point: their workflow depends on online servers to perform the AI pattern inference tasks. We try every time to avoid this for many reasons (from user privacy to real-time functioning), and our apps are able to do it without blazing device or battery life. We always design our products from the scratch with a totally user-oriented perspective, that’s why even our core team is conformed by very talented people with hearing and visual disability too, they work in aspects related to their own academic background but also in the process of creating a new feature, or improving an existing one.
Your final thoughts?
Hugo Jácome: I truly believe that the main principle of life is to give. When you start living from this perspective a whole purpose change occurs and in the road, you will find different ways of giving humanity something positive. That’s reflected in the main purpose of Talov: to use cutting edge technology for making the world more accessible for everyone, especially for people with disabilities.
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