Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Puffin Innovations

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One-line solution summary:

Naturalistic human-computer interfacing meets AI & IoT to help people with disabilities climb the employment mountain

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Pitch your solution.

More than $150 billion is lost in tax revenue annually due to the lack of people with disabilities (PWD) in the workforce. Individuals with physical disabilities are even further hampered by the physical inability to interact with new technologies, resulting in the displacement of such workers. Our mission is twofold: we seek to stop the displacement of those workers who literally cannot interact with the necessary technologies for their jobs, and give PWD who never thought they could work the tools to live that dream.

Our solution is a mouth-operated input device - a seamless, hands-free connection between human and machine; designed to include the needs of those with complex disabilities. Paired with our unique platform, it provides axial controls with clicking/touch and gesture functionality. These tools enable PWD to fully participate, and thrive, in the modern workforce.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Input devices are not new to the disability community, however, mouth-operated input devices have not kept up with emerging technologies and still require tethering to a device with able-bodied assistance for settings management. PuffinInno is using IoT/ML/AI to develop a disruptive assistive technology that not only advances access to personal electronics but also learns from a person's usage patterns to facilitate a higher level of accessibility never seen before. IoT connectivity furthers full inclusion, while ML assists in user-centered product development, improving the way people interact with the device and ease of use. Put together, the device has the potential to improve a person’s quality of life in ways we could not have imagined in the past.

According to the Reeves Foundation, approximately 84% of the five million in the U.S. living with some form of paralysis (SCI, CP, stroke, MS) are unemployed, forcing most to depend on government aid and live in poverty. If a percentage of this population had the opportunity to participate in the modern workforce, it would lead to a reduction in the use of government programs, increased opportunities for PWD and caregivers alike, and a positive societal impact for all.

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What is your solution?

A Bluetooth-enabled, battery-powered, mouth-operated input device that uses a novel interaction with IoT/ML/AI to facilitate advanced access to all electronic devices. We designed the Puffin with three attributes in mind: flexibility, functionality, and independence. Featuring a joystick with a tip containing photo-transistors that are triggered when covered, and a physical button triggered by lightly biting down. A Bluetooth LE module translates the user's interactions with the buttons on the tip and the movement of the joystick into HID mouse commands, allowing a user to wirelessly communicate with countless Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Various button combinations map to various commands such as a left-click, right-click, drag, or scroll, allowing the user to efficiently navigate through web pages, spreadsheets, etc. Two LEDs on the side of the Puffin notify the user of events such as pairing to a new device, battery power levels, and entering drag mode. A lithium polymer battery powers the Puffin, and allows the user to take the Puffin wherever they need to go, without having to worry about tethering the device to a power source. Finally, magnetic connectors attach the Puffin to an external mounting system, allowing the device to easily be detached and moved to a different location.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

We project a disabled population of 5.2 million people in the US to ultimately benefit from this solution. Within the first year, we will be targeting the approximately 500,000 unemployed (job hunting) individuals with disabilities who are actively searching for a solution like ours to help them gain technological access/training within months for opportunities in the workforce within three years. Seeing the remarkable effects our solution has provided Adriana (CEO) over the last three years in leading this venture, we concur with our bevy of happy beta testers: this solution will enable users equal access to job opportunities.

We are upskilling individuals with disabilities, a population of workers that are inherently disenfranchised and low-income in society today, by providing them with the means and tools, previously unavailable to them, to succeed and thrive in the workforce. Our platform, inclusive by design, is meant to provide stability to this population of freelance workers. As of today, there is a stigma surrounding individuals with disabilities suggesting they are not capable of performing as well as their able-bodied counterparts.  Our mission is to not only eliminate that narrative but to excite change such that everyone has equal access, and thus ample opportunity, tomorrow -- both in perception and reality.

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Which dimension of the Digital Workforce Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Provide more equitable access to the digital workforce for all, including those lacking connectivity, those who are differently abled, and those with undervalued talents
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

We are providing more equitable access to the digital workforce for people with disabilities. Our solution removes barriers to entry because it enables people with disabilities to navigate opportunities and express underestimated talents and skillsets. Now that working from home is more acceptable in response to covid 19 conditions and norms, talent participation from people with disabilities is more probable, yet only if they have access to the technology that provides the means to actually engage. 

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Woburn, MA, USA
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Is your solution already being implemented in one or more of the following ServiceNow locations (Australia/New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom, United States), or are you planning to expand your solution to one or more of these countries?

My solution is already being implemented in one or more of these ServiceNow locations

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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Still in pre-launch, we’ve deployed it to a subset of our user base for the purpose of testing functional aspects and generating the optimized position of our optical and physical buttons. Users from the Boston Chapter of United Spinal, Easterseals, and the Seven Hills Foundation have tested our system, providing feedback on usability, design, use cases, and technical features, helping us develop an optimal interactive device that will better serve them all.

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Adriana Mallozzi, founder & CEO

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the ServiceNow US Racial Equity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if ServiceNow is specifically interested in my solution/I do not qualify for this prize

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

The solution is both a unique technological advancement over existing assistive input devices, as well as a platform that opens up new applications in this category. It incorporates optical and physical buttons in an optimized configuration to enable smoother, less strenuous transitions between control methods. The main innovation, however, lies in its versatility. Modular by design, our product has a user-friendly interface and integrated platform allowing individuals with disabilities to easily configure settings and alternate control of multiple devices, accommodating a wide variety of user needs. Additionally, using AI will aid in overcoming each individual’s learning curve with technology.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Along with the hardware specifications previously mentioned in the application, we have also developed a cross-platform application that allows users to manage settings such as joystick speed and sensitivity, active Bluetooth connections, and fluidly switch between those connections. Bodies of people with disabilities are inconsistent from day-to-day thus benefiting from embedded ML/AI technology. This will allow the Puffin to learn the way in which users interact with it and adjust accordingly when one seems to deviate from “baseline.” 

We intend on including sensors to monitor motion and temperature. The data obtained by tracking users’ body movements will not only help influence the Puffin’s adaptability/autonomy and future development but also be a valuable resource for medical professionals to create more effective treatment plans, as well as for innovators. Tracking temperature is especially important, more specifically for those with spinal cord injuries, as a majority are unable to regulate their body temperature. The combination of IoT connectivity and AI will notify the user of risky temperatures so they can take proper action to avoid health complications; in the case of one having a smart/connected home, the thermostat will be adjusted.  These features would be a first in the AT space, allowing us to become leaders in the field.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Imaging and Sensor Technology
  • Internet of Things
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Persons with Disabilities
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • United States
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Our product is still in pre-launch. We’ve deployed it to a subset of our user base for the primary purpose of testing functional aspects of our design and generating the aforementioned optimized position of our optical and physical buttons. Users across the Boston Chapter of United Spinal, Easter Seals, and the Seven Hills Foundation have beta tested our software and hardware systems, providing feedback on usability, design constraints, use cases and technical features. In doing so, each individual is putting their own mark on our product, helping us develop an interactive device that will better serve them all.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models

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How many people work on your solution team?

4

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How long have you been working on your solution?

4 years

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Our close-knit, diverse team combines Sloan business strategy with MIT and Tufts engineering expertise. Adriana, founder and CEO, is a quadriplegic due to Cerebral Palsy and has been a pioneer and inspiration to our customer base, serving as an advocate for people with disabilities. Our team features past and present employees within MIT’s Media Lab and Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab, with extensive experience in product design, human-computer interfacing techniques, and wearable technology. Through active networking in education, jobs, hackathons, mentoring programs, task forces and assistive technology events, our team members have built a great cast of complementary relations.

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to the 2021 Digital Workforce Challenge?

We are applying to MIT’s Solve to enter an initiative with an impact-driven, forward-thinking and open-minded approach. Having launched our company from an MIT hackathon, our team understands that Solve is nested in a culture and community that has the vision and expertise to see a future in which disabilities are not a limitation. Building a support system and gaining recognition within this framework fosters greater ideation, collaboration, and feedback regarding our products, and provides a great potential towards enhancing our brand’s marketing capability.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Legal or Regulatory Matters
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)
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Please provide an overview of your current activities in those locations.

Still in pre-launch, we’ve deployed it to a subset of our user base for the purpose of testing functional aspects and generating the optimized position of our optical and physical buttons. Users from the Boston Chapter of United Spinal, Easterseals, and the Seven Hills Foundation have tested our system, providing feedback on usability, design, use cases, and technical features, helping us develop an optimal interactive device that will better serve them all.

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We engaged a few companies, like Flexible Circuit Technologies, that can provide versatile components required upon our device’s aforementioned form factor changes. Additionally, we will form corporate partnerships with various technology companies that produce everyday consumer products. Microsoft representatives have expressed interest in showcasing our product at their stores as a compatible input device facilitating bi-directional communication, coinciding with their (and our) mission of making consumer products accessible. Along those lines, we’re inquiring about partnerships with companies producing AI developer platforms (e.g. Amazon Alexa). We also seek to advance our product’s implementation into military and intelligent manufacturing applications.

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Solution Team

  • Adriana Mallozzi Founder & CEO, Puffin Innovations
 
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