One of this year's smartest new innovations might also be one of the simplest: an app that uses the most basic function of smartphones, communication and connection between two people, to help users with visual impairments carry out simple everyday tasks.
Visually impaired people's remaining senses often become incredibly sensitive, allowing them to live a normal life and navigate their way through the day-to-day without the power of sight that the rest of us so often take for granted. And as I found out just recently, some people even use a mind-blowing kind of bat-like sonar to identify their exact surroundings. But there are certain small, everyday tasks that still pose a challenge. Checking the best before date of a product, finding out the colour of a piece of clothing, or choosing the right tin from the cupboard: these are all things that are usually impossible to do alone. But now, you can help.
Developed by Danish inventor Hans Jørgen Wiberg, Be My Eyes is an app that allows anyone around the world to lend someone else their vision for a few minutes. Using live video chat, the app connects visually impaired people to sighted volunteers, who can use their phone's cameras to assess the surroundings and relay the necessary information. Questions like, "What's in this tin? Soup or baked beans?" are solved in just a few seconds. And while the app allows visually impaired users to request help from willing volunteers from within the comfort of their own homes, the volunteers too are rewarded with the simple joy of being able to help somebody else.
Just like the concept itself, the app is simple to operate and understand. After visiting the Apple store to download and install it, you set up a profile and specify whether you are sighted or visually impaired. If the former is the case, then all you have to do is wait for someone to send you a request for help. According to the official website, the app has currently facilitated over 116,000 transactions between blind and sighted users, and approximately 350,000 people have downloaded the app. The only drawback - if you can even call it that - is the fact that sighted volunteers currently massively outnumber the visually impaired, with around 12 people offering help to everyone one who might need it, meaning many people who signed up are still waiting for a call. Feedback has been positive though, so the situation is likely to change as the app gains more momentum and more blind and partially-sighted people sign up. Indeed, the fact that there are so many volunteers is not actually a problem at all: it's incredible that so many people want to help others to be able to see the world through their eyes.
For an even closer look at the app and how it works, check out the video below.