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How Cheil and Samsung Are Democratising Eye Tracking Technology for People with ALS


Alejandro Di Trolio, executive creative director at Cheil Spain, explains the problems that the team had to solve to create Tallk - a free app that allows ALS patients to communicate using any Samsung device

How Cheil and Samsung Are Democratising Eye Tracking Technology for People with ALS
Samsung Tallk is one of those rare projects that could genuinely transform people’s lives. Putting to work the full power of creativity and technology at Cheil Spain and Samsung’s disposal, the new app solves a real problem in people’s daily lives. 

With Tallk, a patient with the degenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) will now be able to access eye tracking communication technology for free from any Samsung device, as well as gaining the ability to have autonomy thanks to the connectivity of Samsung’s SmartThings IoT technology, allowing them to interact with utilities in their homes, turning on lights, adjusting the air conditioning or changing channels on the TV, for example.

The free app turns any camera on a Samsung smartphone or tablet into an eye movement tracker with the ability to turn tiny pupil gestures into words and actions, allowing people who are physically incapable of speaking or moving to keep communicating with their family and friends and control IOT connected devices.

Currently only available to Spanish-speaking people, the speed of its adoption (over 50% of ALS patients in Spain in its first month) shows that Tallk could have huge potential. LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to Cheil Spain ECD Alejandro Di Trolio, to find out what made this project possible.

LBB> What was the initial problem that needed to be solved from the perspective of Samsung and people with ALS?

Alejandro> The main problem we wanted to solve was inclusion. Samsung is one of the most important technology brands worldwide and number one in Spain, hence the idea of turning technology into something more, into an opportunity to break barriers for those who need it most.
The idea seeks a democratisation of eye tracking technology, allowing anyone, regardless of their economic resources, and with any Samsung Tablet, to interact with the world again. Not only does it allow people to talk through eye tracking but, thanks to the Samsung ecosystem and Bixby + IOT, patients with reduced mobility can communicate with their loved ones through WhatsApp or Zoom, turn on any household appliance and even regulate the temperature of their home. 
This innovation opens a window to the world like never before for people who have, until now, been slaves of a disease. 


LBB> After some research, what did you discover the 'real' problem to be (and what thinking or research brought you there)?

Alejandro> This project was an idea that was born out of many different points of view. The brand and the agency worked together with one of the most important foundations supporting ALS patients in Spain (Fundación Luzón), and the developers (irisbond) who were involved from the start. Everyone worked to bring to life an innovative idea that not only detected a real problem, but also amplified the solutions.
In Spain, the technology to speak again through eye tracking is around €6,000, which means that the vast majority of ALS patients do not have access to interact with the world because they do not have the economic resources. This harsh reality inspired the team to develop Tallk, a free application, 100% developed in Spain, which brings eye tracking + IOT technology to all homes regardless of their social status.

LBB> After breaking down the initial problem, what were your first steps?

Alejandro> I think the most complicated and longest process was the technical part, that of creating an application that would work on any Samsung tablet on the market, not only because of hardware limitations but also because of its usability. That was always the key to the project, the union of developers, client and agency working together.

LBB> And how did you arrive at it taking the form of an app that reads the pupils of ALS patients?

Alejandro> I think the biggest discovery was in the idea of the democratisation of eye tracking and the amplification of its power thanks to all the devices that interconnect with Samsung’s SmartThings technology. Reading people’s pupils and talking to them was the beginning, but making it actionable I think is the part I like best, because it shows that home automation and voice assistants can help those who need it most. 

LBB> What options or ideas did the ideation process throw out?

Alejandro> Tallk is a product born from a platform called Technology with Purpose, an initiative of the brand that seeks to create ideas that serve to improve people's lives through technology. Tallk was created with Fundación Luzón to give more autonomy to patients in an advanced stage of the disease. Working with Samsung products, the idea is for the algorithm to take advantage of the brand's entire ecosystem to turn eye tracking into something that would give them some of the freedom that the disease had taken away from them.


LBB> Was the problem relatively straightforward to ideate around or were there any blocks or challenges?

Alejandro> Technology always poses challenges to overcome, even if you are clear about the basic idea, new challenges always arise. One of the biggest challenges was the different hardware on which the app had to run, as it had to work with the camera on a range of devices from a €150 tablet to one of the brand’s most premium devices. That was one of the main technological challenges, to make the accessibility real and 100% functional.

LBB> Where did you look for inspiration?

Alejandro> The inspiration comes from addressing a very clear barrier – the impossibility of movement in ALS patients. The fact that a patient cannot move a muscle in the last stages of the disease posed us a very big challenge, and from a technological point of view, the opportunity to showcase one of the biggest innovation brands in the world. From there, technology became a resource and at the same time a muse in the creative process.

LBB> What did you find most interesting about the designing and prototyping process?

Alejandro> The evolution of the project and the two clear development paths. From the technical side, testing and prototyping and seeing its evolution every month, and from the communication point of view, how we were shaping a new brand called Tallk, the changes in its launch campaign, in its corporate identity and above all in its branding.

LBB> What were the most interesting conversations or challenges that emerged at this stage?

Alejandro> One of the main challenges we faced was how to make usability the democratising element of the whole idea. Tallk was born as an open app that seeks that any patient, regardless of her level of technological knowledge, could access interaction with the world intuitively and easily. The challenge was to achieve this not only in one device but in all, regardless of the hardware and software it had. One of the recurring conversations focused on Tallk's success was accessibility to the app, and this continues to be the mindset of the entire team.

LBB> How can people access this technology? Who are you working with to get it into the hands of the right people?

Alejandro> The power of Tallk resides in that anyone with a tablet and the Android operating system can access all of the app's functionalities. The Samsung team in collaboration with the Luzon Foundation are working to bring this universal technology to a greater number of patients.

Another interesting aspect in my opinion is the amplification capacity of Tallk as an interaction tool not only for patients with ALS but for anyone with physical limitations. Patients with ALS have been the first target due to the severity of the disease, but its universal character can open up to other diseases that limit people's mobility.

LBB> Now that Tallk is out there, how is data and feedback helping to improve it further?

Alejandro> Right now, it is too early to draw conclusions but certainly all the data that is being collected will be very useful to improve and scale the application in the coming years.

LBB> Looking back over the whole project, what were the most personally interesting aspects of it for you?

Alejandro> I think that Tallk is part of the innovation culture that Cheil has in its DNA and that has been materialising for years. At Cheil we are a network born in the 21st century that believes creativity must go further and take advantage of the full potential of innovation to develop ideas that provide real and scalable solutions.
Tallk was launched in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, in a global crisis, where communication and interaction through digital platforms became the only window to the world for everyone, but especially for those who for decades have lived locked in their disease. These are the people who Tallk was made for, to give them the opportunity to reconnect with their environment again. For me the whole project is a very powerful metaphor for the power of communication.

LBB> And what impact has this project had on people with ALS?

Alejandro> In Spain, more that 50% of ALS patients have downloaded the app in the first month, and the number is growing every week. It is making a big impact in our mission to improve the lives of ALS patients.


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Cheil Worldwide Spain, Wed, 12 May 2021 13:58:19 GMT