Designing for: Technology & Innovation with Lotus Labs (Season 5, Episode 2)

Inclusive Designers Podcast
Inclusive Designers Podcast
Designing for: Technology & Innovation with Lotus Labs (Season 5, Episode 2)
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By: Janet Roche & Carolyn Robbins

  • Hosted By: Janet Roche
  • Edited by: Jessica Hunt
  • Guest: Dhaval Patel, Lotus Labs
  • Photo Credit: Lotus Labs

Inclusive Designers Podcast:

Accessibility is often an afterthought in product design. Even tech with the potential to be game-changing for folks with disabilities, often isn’t designed with them in mind. Is a hybrid of Inclusive, Universal and Human-centered Design the key to solving this problem?

IDP explores how to improve the design process with Dhaval Patel of Lotus Labs. We’ll hear about their innovative ‘Lotus Ring’ that aims to prove this theory and serve as an example that the process really can work!

Guest: Dhaval Patel- is the founder and CEO of Lotus, a company whose mission is to build technology that is useful to everyone, by optimizing for disability first. To that end, Lotus has built a wearable Ring that controls objects at home by pointing.

Formerly, Dhaval was a division leader at Apple, working in their iPhone, Apple Watch & AirPod divisions. He has 37 patents in sensing & haptics. His work at Apple inspired him to build technology that helps everyone, but could be especially life changing for disabled persons, seniors, and veterans.

“Legacy. What is Legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”  – Quote from ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’

– Contact: Dhaval Patel (Linked In)

– References: 

Transcript:

Designing for: Technology & Innovation with Lotus Labs,                (Season 5, Episode 2)
Guest: Dhaval Patel, Lotus Labs

(Music / Open)

Janet: In this series we will be discussing specific examples of design techniques that make a positive difference for people living with certain human conditions.

Carolyn: The more a designer understands the client and or the community the more effective and respectful the design will be.

(Music / Intro)

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast, I am your host, Janet Roche…

Carolyn: and I am your moderator, Carolyn Robbins…

Janet: And welcome as well to another season of Inclusive Designers Podcast. Can you believe it we are already on Season 4…

Carolyn: Season 5, Janet

Janet: Wow, Season 5? Boy have these last few years flown by!

And I just want to say I do not look a year older…

Carolyn: Me neither.

Janet: Nope.

Carolyn: Nope. (laughs).

Janet: On a side note, did you know that Stitcher is no more? No mas. Nada. Zippo – and has left the building.

Carolyn: (laughs) But we did add Pandora in its place, so you can now find IDP there as well – or maybe you are already listening to it on Pandora.

Janet: It could be, our audience is smart. Or as we like to say here in New England, ‘SMAHT’…

Carolyn: Yup, they’re ‘Wicked Smaht’ – and we do have a great show for our ‘Smaht’ listeners today!

Janet: Yes we do…

Carolyn: And this will be the first of our ongoing technology and innovation series.

Janet: Yes it is, Carolyn. Tell them about our next guest, Dhaval Patel…

Carolyn: I would be honored to: Dhaval Patel, is the founder and CEO of Lotus. A company whose mission is to build technology that is useful to everyone, by optimizing for disability first. To that end, Lotus has built a wearable Ring that controls ‘un-smaht’ objects at home by pointing.

Formerly, he was a division leader at Apple, working in their iPhone, Apple Watch & AirPod divisions. His work at Apple inspired him to build technology that helps everyone, but could be especially life changing for disabled persons, seniors, and veterans. He also has 37 patents in sensing & haptics—and you know that’s the definition of ‘Smaht!’

Janet: (laughs) Not only will we learn about the ‘Lotus Ring’ he invented, and how it works, but Dhaval is also a great believer that a combination of universal and inclusive design is the ideal.

Carolyn:  And he will share his thoughts on why this hybrid may work best.

Janet: Yes, he will. We enjoyed hearing his perspective on design, and think you will too, so let’s get to it!

Carolyn: Absolutely. And with that, here is our interview with… Dhaval Patel— engineer, entrepreneur, and forever advocate for better design…

(Music / Interview)

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers, Dhaval. How are you today?

Dhaval: I am great. Thank you for having me. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here. How are you?

Janet: Terrific. I’m doing swell. Now that you’re here, we can talk about your product, which I’m excited about doing, and hearing more about the journey and the genesis of your product and how it can help some of the listeners either for their own personal use or for their family’s use, or for client’s use. So, let’s just dive right on in. We did a little intro, but why don’t you tell me in your own words a little bit about yourself?

Dhaval: Sure! Quick audio description of myself… I’m a brown guy with black hair, mid-thirties, sitting in front of one of my favorite prints, which is the black and white print of the flat iron building in New York.

Janet: Yep, we should probably do that as well. You’re correct. We talked about this earlier. (Dhaval: yeah), blonde haired, fairly pale skin, individual who’s in her office right now. And so there’s a bunch of paintings behind me, and I’ve got my headset on.

Thank you for reminding me and for our listeners, we hope to continue to set that trend and make that something that is just a staple for what we do for each episode. So thank you for that (Dhaval: yeah). It shows us that we can all learn something all the time, right?

Dhaval: Thanks Janet. (Janet: yeah). Yeah, absolutely.

Janet: So Dhaval, tell me a little about your background…

Dhaval: Yeah, a little bit about myself. My name is Dhaval Patel. Hardware engineer by training, did my undergraduate and master’s degrees at Georgia Tech in electrical engineering with a minor in aerospace engineering, (Janet: oh), and master’s also in electrical with a minor in finance. (Janet: yeah).

Worked at a couple of different places and essentially ended up at Apple where I ended up being there for about 8-and-a-half years, (Janet: yeah), and managed a division at Apple for iPhone watch and AirPods.

And now founded Lotus, where we’ve made this wearable ring for people with limited mobility that controls objects at home by pointing. But happy to talk more about that as we go. (Janet: yeah). Yeah.

Janet: So, you have a remarkable career. So now what was the genesis for getting into this particular area and starting Lotus.

And for our listeners, we’ll have all this information on our website at inclusivedesigners.com. And so we’ll have Dhaval’s information, we’ll have all the information on both his ring and also how you can get in contact with him.

And so, take us back. So were you at Apple at the time that you came up with the idea for the ring? Was there a particular instance that started with the ring? What was the genesis behind the ring?

Dhaval: Yeah, so let me describe the ring and then also describe sort of how it came about.

Janet:  That sounds good.

Dhaval: So, in a nutshell, for people with limited mobility, we’ve created this wearable ring that controls objects at home by pointing.

Janet:  It’s as simple as that, right.

Dhaval: Yeah, but unlike Alexa, there’s no apps, no rewiring, and no internet. (Janet: right). And the reason to do all this was it really started with me. I was born with twisted knees, and over the years I’ve been on and off crutches. And one night, a few years ago in this house, I had gotten into bed only having realized I’d left the hallway lights on. But I was too tired to get out of bed, hop onto my crutches, hobble 10-feet, turn off the light, hobble back 10-feet and get back into bed.

So I slept with the lights on (Janet: interesting) the entire night, (Janet: right). And woke up in the morning thinking “if someone like me, an engineer managing a division at Apple with expertise in wall electronics” — because I’ve also worked at Lutron— and have 37 patents, “if I don’t even have smart home tech, who does?” (Janet: right). And that’s how we got going.

And initially I thought it was just a me problem. It turned out as I researched, 91-percent of US homes were built before smart homes even existed. (Janet: right). But there’s no easy way to upgrade.

Even if someone gifts you an Amazon Echo and you wanted to control your lights. Well the first step you have to rewire all your existing wall switches to connect to the internet, to be able to talk to Alexa. (Janet: right).

Then you have to put speakers in every room to control the switches you just rewired. (Janet: right). And if you somehow get past those two hurdles, you then have to pair every single switch one-by-one through another app. (Janet: right). And just the first step in this process is 11-hours and 2-thousand-dollars. (Janet: wow, yeah). And this is best case if you own the home.

Janet:  Right. That’s best-case scenario, right.

Dhaval: Yeah. Because if you rent the home, (Janet: you can’t do it). There’s no solution. (Janet: there is no solution). And as much as it affects everybody, it disproportionately affects people like me, people with limited mobility, 27-million people. Older adults, disabled persons and veteran soldiers, (Janet: right), who can spend up to 4-hours at home on self-care every day. (Janet: hmm. yeah). And so we ended up creating this ring that controls objects at home by pointing, but without apps, without rewiring, without internet.

Janet:  Right. We talk a lot about injustice and especially if, maybe if you do have some sort of disability or not as abled as other individuals, you’re more likely to be hitting the poverty level as well. So you’re also dealing with things like affordable housing or trying to find affordable housing. You know, you’re not likely to maybe have your own home where you would have that ability. So I think it’s pretty great that this ring takes away that. So explain it a little bit further, so, you don’t have to go into the technology of the ring, you’re smiling…

Dhaval: Yeah, we’ll keep it…

Janet:  We’ll keep it simple (laughs)…

Dhaval: We’ll keep it fairly straightforward…

Janet: Right. (Dhaval: yeah). But in all seriousness, what I think is fascinating, you can tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you can even remove the device.

Dhaval: Yeah, that’s right.

Janet:  Right. So if say, you left the apartment— and I don’t mean just, you know, for the day— but if you have to leave the apartment, you’re not leaving all of those pieces behind.

Dhaval: Yeah, you’re not leaving all of your smart home behind. (Janet: right).  Yeah, so the way it works, very simply, 3 simple step process. Step 1, you put on the ring, it has a single button on the ring and that’s it. Now, putting on the ring once, eliminates the need to have a smart speaker in every single room of your house, (Janet: right) because the ring goes with you wherever you go. (Janet: right). So you don’t need to have a smart speaker everywhere. So that’s step one.

Step two, for any existing wall switch you can attach our second half, which is a switch cover magnetically, (he demonstrates, we hear click). (Janet: right). So there’s no rewiring necessary, which like I mentioned, is also something you have to do today, otherwise, right? If you want Alexa to control your lights, you have to rewire every single wall switch to be able to connect to the internet. With this, you don’t have to do that, it just attaches to existing switches magnetically.

And step 3, all you do is point and click. So you point towards the wall switch and click the one button that’s on the ring. That’s it. The ring uses the same technology that your TV remote does, which is infrared. And so it’s very similar, just like a TV remote, all you do is point and click. And using infrared eliminates the need for apps, smartphones, and most importantly, internet. (Janet: right).

So in a nutshell, you put the ring on, snap on the switch, point and click. (Janet: that’s it). That’s it. We let you go from home to smart home in seconds. And like you mentioned, the added benefit of this is you can also take it with you wherever you go. (Janet: yeah). And we talk about this in disability advocacy a lot. As much as we often talk about sort of permanent disability, there’s everything on the spectrum from temporary (Janet: of course), and also situational, (Janet: right situational).

And so for instance, this is not just needed for people with limited mobility. It’s helpful to anyone. So if you live in a rental apartment today, which is a third of the US population— (Janet: correct)— it’s 114-million people— this is perfect for you because today, there’s no solution because of all the rewiring necessary with today’s smart home technology. (Janet: right).

And so, this added benefit of being able to take it with you wherever you go is: A, if you’re living in a rental apartment, you have a solution now; and B, more importantly, if you have a disability, then you don’t have to pay what’s often known as the quote ‘disability tax’ when you go on vacation.

Because now, as opposed to what you have to do today, you know, you may not be able to stay at every Airbnb you want to, or necessarily with friends and family in town because the, you know, the homes may not be accessible. (Janet: correct.)

And so you’re forced to upgrade to these 5-star hotels, to one of those 2 rooms up on every floor that are deemed accessible, but then you’re paying 500, 600-dollars a night. (Janet: right). With this, essentially you can convert any pre-existing space into becoming accessible wherever you go. (Janet: right). And so it’s also helpful when you’re traveling on vacation, even if you’re not just moving.

Janet:  Yeah, and you bring up a good point about traveling and, we discussed it just briefly, but it’s such an important piece, you know, in terms of way of life and quality of life. And then to be able to have something as simple as that, to be able to make something just a little more accessible for everyone I think is pretty great.

Although we did do an episode with Ed Warner of Motion Spot, and they had, really kind of helped a local hotel I believe, to put in different components to make it more accessible. And just as a comment to everybody out there listening, the hotel actually did better financially because they were the only, you know, game in town, so to speak. (Dhaval: yeah), which, you know, I get it, it really kind of goes to show you this is, it’s proven financially that it’s a good thing.

Dhaval: Yeah, and I couldn’t agree more, right? There’s no reason why you can’t align social impact with financial. (Janet: right). There’s absolutely no reason that has to be a given. It’s not a given.

Janet:  Well, there’s a lot that believe that there’s a separation between such, right.

Dhaval: Right. And, you know, I would hope through this and these and other conversations, we can sort of pierce that veil (Janet: correct). And, and in fact, that’s our thesis, which is, our thesis is: we only build technology that is usable by everyone, (Janet: yeah), just by optimizing for disability first, (Janet: right). Because by doing that, you solve for everyone anyway, except you don’t leave anyone behind. (Janet: right). In fact, you start with a person that may have a higher need to start, which is perfect for business and perfect for impact, and then you have a much bigger market that you open up also.

And so why don’t we do that all the time anyway? It just requires more planning upfront, (Janet: right). So why not do that? In fact, there are plenty of examples that exist today already, right? Closed captions. (Janet: right). if you’ve ever used subtitles on TV or while watching a movie, it was originally technology that was created back in the seventies for folks who were deaf. (Janet: right.)

But we all use it all the time. I mean, if you’ve ever been to a sports bar, or at an airport, or even if you’re, (Janet: I depend on it, laughs). Yeah, yeah. I mean, I can’t tell you the number of movies I watch where I can’t understand the accent (Janet: accent), or it’s very technical jargon. (Janet: jargon). And there’s a lot of things happening. And so I use it all the time.

And so it’s the same concept. We use these technologies for more than the initial scope anyway. And so why don’t we just do that from the get-go all the time, (Janet: right, yeah). And so that’s, that’s our thesis, and we’re just trying to adopt and propose the same philosophy, except in hardware.

Janet:  Right. Well, we’ll go march on Washington at some point and make sure that these things are just a given, baked into the bread, as we say, as opposed to, an afterthought, right? (Dhaval: yeah). Right.

I’m going to ask you a series of questions. And the first question is— I just want to make sure that I understand— so my ring, if I had my ring and I had a bunch of the devices on the outlets, I can just point and click to each one and then they would turn on and off… am I understanding that correctly?

Dhaval: That is correct. So today the things you can control are anything a wall switch controls, so lights are the most common example. (Janet: sure). But also fans. (Janet: mm-hmm). Also, appliances like window unit, ACs. (Janet: nice). And because we’re using infrared, we can also control televisions. No extra components needed because all televisions come with infrared. (Janet: right). And later down the pipeline, we’re planning on working on drapes, (Janet: ah), followed by doors.

And the reason is, we’re, instead of trying to work with any random set of objects, we’re focused on the things you have to interact with every single day. (Janet: right). In other words, what’s clinically known as ‘Activities of Daily Living.’ (Janet: right). These are the 6 things that everyone has to do every day, right? Everyone’s got to eat, go to the bathroom, shower, change your clothes, get out of the bed, and move around the house. Those 6 things are called ‘Activities of Daily Living.’

And if you think about it, to do those 6 things, and it doesn’t matter if you’re, you know, if you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You’re still having, it doesn’t matter how much money you have in other words, you still have to do these 6 things. To do those 6 things, there are 3 underlying prerequisites, right? You need a light source. (Janet: right). In the morning it happens to be blinds, in the evening it’s electric lights, but you need a light source. (Janet: sure.)

The second you have to open and close doors, (Janet: uh-huh), to do these 6 things. And the third, whichever space in your home you end up in, you have to control some appliance. The most commonly requested one being television, but closely followed by environmental controls, like fans or window unit ACs. (Janet: yup).

And so that’s why these are the objects we’re focused on because everyone has to do them every day, except if you have limited mobility, just to do these 6 things in these 3 underlying prerequisite buckets, you’re spending an extra 4- hours every day.

And keep in mind, these are non-optional things, right? So imagine sort of waking up and being stuck in traffic for 4-hours every single day. (Janet: laughs). Non-optional. (Janet: no). And so it’s a very high frequency and high intensity pain point. (Janet: right). And so that’s why we want to start there and then ultimately help everyone.

Janet:  There you go. Yeah. No, nobody wants to be in traffic for 4-hours every day. (laughs). So alright, so one of the other questions I have for you is, dealing with people who have arthritis. I’m sure you’ve kind of thought a little bit about what that means. I particularly have my Oura ring on. (Dhaval: yeah).

My Oura ring is, kind of looks a little bit like your ring, but my ring nowadays as I’m getting older and, and it’s been so hot out, like I can’t always get it off my finger. And so I don’t, have you thought about that? And if so, what are the implications with that, is there, I’m assuming that they have to be charged, is that correct?

Dhaval: Yes. So there’s a couple of questions in there, and I’m happy to answer each one. (Janet: that’s great). So, let me start off with sort of arthritis as an example. (Janet: sure). We wanted to be very intentional from the get-go to do a combination of what’s called inclusive design and universal design. (Janet: nice).

Now, for anyone who’s not familiar with it listening, inclusive design, in very colloquially speaking, inclusive design is one size fits one, (Janet: right). Universal design is one size fits all. And they each have their benefits and advantages, right? (Janet: right). One size fits one, it’s obvious. No one gets left behind. You have something that caters to your needs.

Universal design often gets touted because it’s scalable, right, because it’s one size fits all. (Janet: right). And so we wanted to be very intentional from the beginning. And this is my expertise, the thing I did at Apple was human interface, UI, UX, (Janet: right, UX, yup). And in fact, I even ran the user studies. And so that’s my expertise.

And so what we did was, for the first 9-months, we just interviewed people. We didn’t even build anything. We just interviewed people with different kinds of disabilities. People who were deaf, people who are blind, people with limited mobility, even folks with cognitive disabilities and their family members, as well as clinicians, to get everyone’s perspective.

And so this is part of what we call Human-Centered Design, (Janet: right), which is you start with the end user, not sort of your product or solution, you start with the end user. (Janet: correct). And these are very detailed interviews. We’re talking 9-hours long. Spread out over 3-days for every single person, right?

We start off in, you know, chronologically, when you wake up in the morning, what do you do? What do you interact with? What are your challenges at that point? What products do you use? Where did you get them? Why did you buy those products? How are they serving you right now? Are any of these technological, or are they sort of, you know, physical objects? Things of that nature. And we distilled everything down to what we call a hybrid combination of inclusive and universal design. Not picking one or the other, but both.

And I’ll describe how that works. (Janet: okay). So, simplest user interface is point and click. Right? That’s why your TV remotes haven’t changed in decades. That’s why your input devices, like your keyboards and mat mice are very simple, right?

It’s simple to use, which is low cognitive effort and fine motor control, meaning very little energy, (Janet: correct). Which is easy to use, right? (Janet: right). So, low cognitive effort, low physical effort. So point-and-click. Now, for some reason, if you couldn’t do that, like you mentioned, leading cause of disability in the US is arthritis.

And so if you couldn’t do point-and-click for some reason, if you can’t use fine motor control, then we also allow using gross motor control, so you can use gestures to control the same objects. (Janet: nice).

But let’s not stop there. Let’s push the ball further. Let’s say you couldn’t even do that. Let’s say you’ve had a stroke, or you’re a paraplegic or quadriplegic, then we also allow using voice to control the same objects. (Janet: nice). And the added benefit of that is that it doesn’t need to be line of sight. You can control things that are not line of sight, like in the other room. And all of this is still completely offline. (Janet: right).

And that’s what I mean by a combination of inclusive design and universal design. The inclusive design is you have all these different options, and you don’t have to pick between them, it just works simultaneously. But the universal design is the fact that the underlying technology like infrared, and like the other components in the ring, are all the same for everyone, which is what makes it scalable. And so that’s the combination that we’ve used.

Janet: Yeah. So Dhaval, for our listeners, you touched on something that was kind of interesting, the whole idea of universal and inclusive design and human-centered design and how they’re not mutually exclusive. Would you like to talk to our listeners a little bit more about that?

Dhaval: Yeah. it’s a fair question. I think if there’s one thing my Apple experience as well as my startup experience has taught me is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think there’s this preconceived notion you can only pick between inclusive design or universal design. (Janet: correct). That it can only be social impact or financial impact. It can’t be both. (Janet: right, yeah).

And, and I would just encourage in whatever product or service you’re designing, there’s probably a way where you can do a hybrid approach. Just ensuring that you try to combine inclusive and universal as much as possible, if people start doing that, the field will course correct well. And maybe it’s not perfect and maybe it’s not complete inclusive and complete universal, (Janet: right), but it doesn’t have to be the opposite extreme either. It doesn’t have to only be one or the other.

And just like in this case, I think my mission with this is, if Lotus is successful with what we’ve done, where we’re trying to align a combination of inclusive design and universal design, (Janet: right), and align social and financial impact. (Janet: correct). Us being successful, Lotus being successful, will encourage other companies to follow suit.

It’s not really the financial impact that I care about. It’s more that, if we make it big financially, that will serve as proof that “hey, you can do both, and be financially impactful and be socially impactful.” Right? (Janet: right). It is a possibility. It’s not this sort of pie in the sky. (Janet: no).

And so 10-years from now my test, my vision, my hope is: if we’re successful 10-years from now, designers will look back and wonder how in the world were we ever designing products that were not optimized for disability first. (Janet: correct). Just like you would look back now at products you’re looking at now (Janet: right), and look back to products in the 90s and wonder: “why aren’t all products look nice, feel nice, lightweight?” which is what Apple did right (Janet: yeah).

In the 90s, Apple was asking the question, why are all consumer products built like toasters? (Janet: right). Why are they big and heavy and bulky and don’t look nice and, or nice to touch and feel? And ‘hey, let’s change that notion. Let’s break that underlying assumption, and people will appreciate it.’ (Janet: yeah).

And I’m willing to bet that if we are successful, people will follow suit, and 10-years from today, designers will look back, wondering how we ever build products otherwise. And for me, that’s our metric of success. And I think that’s possible.

Janet: Right. Well, I hope to have you back before 10-years so you can tell us all the other great stuff that you’re doing, yes, as opposed to waiting for 10-years….

Dhaval: (laughs) it will be an honor.

Janet: So Dhaval, one of the questions I now have with the ring, and we’ve talked a little bit about arthritis and what does that mean, but now also, you mentioned that it can be voice activated. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that works?

Dhaval: Yeah, sure. So the intent was to make sure that there was always a modality that helped anyone that needed it if they needed it. And so the intent is the ring will have a motion sensor that allows the gestures, and it would also have a microphone, which allows voice.

Now, there are a lot of privacy concerns, which is why a lot of people don’t actually use their Alexa speakers today. There’re really 2 primary concerns… one is: its online. And so a lot of folks, even the ones— there are statistics on this— about 54-percent of people that even have Amazon speakers choose not to have more than one because they don’t feel comfortable putting it in private rooms like bedrooms and bathrooms. (Janet: right). And so the 2 reasons for that, one is its online, and second is: it’s always listening and then sending that information online. (Janet: right).

For starters, we’re completely offline, so your data stays in your home, doesn’t go anywhere. (Janet: oh, that’s good to know). That’s the easy one. (Janet: right, that’s the easy part). But, I mean, it’s completely offline, right, so there’s nowhere for it to go. (Janet: great).

In addition, every ring does not need to have microphones, if it’s not necessary. (Janet: right). And so for some folks, if they want the ability to use multiple ways, we’re probably going to have that. But otherwise, a lot of the times we’ll only have the features in the ring that that set of people need. And so it’s not like everyone has to have the microphone in it if they don’t want it.

Janet: Oh, so there’ll be different iterations of the ring, different maybe levels of the ring? (Dhaval: correct). I didn’t realize that. (Dhaval: that is correct). Alright, so that’s good to know.

Dhaval: That’s right. because there were a lot of people that we interviewed who said, ‘Hey, I love all of this, but I don’t think I’ll ever need the microphone’ (Janet: right). ‘And I, it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I don’t want it’. And so, in fact that’s what happened. This is the good part about human centered design. These are the types of things you learn when you just talk to people without an end solution in mind. (Janet: right). By the way, the 9-hour interviews, they were single blind interviews.

And we had an idea, but we never told them about the idea for the first 8-hours. (Janet: wow). It was only the last hour that we would say, “Hey, this is great. We’ve had this idea that we’ve been sitting on, what do you think?” And then whatever they would say, we would cross-check it with the first 8-hours of what they mentioned. (Janet: interesting).

You know, because people tend to be very polite and very nice (Janet: right) and no one’s going to tell you, pardon the phrase, your baby is ugly. (Janet: laughs). And no one’s going to tell you that. (Janet: what were you thinking? yeah, right).

We wanted to make sure that we were data driven and any feedback that we got could be cross-referenced with the user’s own feedback. (Janet: right). And so then we were, you could be more sure. And so that was one of the things that came out, which is not everyone wants a ring with a speaker on it, or rather, more specifically, not everyone wants a ring with a microphone on it. So we want to make sure that if you needed it, it is available. (Janet: right). But you don’t need to have every ring have it.

Janet: Interesting. Well, it goes to show you, as designers we know to do more upfront research before we actually go in and start doing the design, to your point, just makes all the difference in the world.  And so I find that whole part fascinating as well.

Then, so where do you see the ring going? Is there another type? I mean, we talked about different iterations— the one that might have the microphone, one doesn’t have a microphone. We could be as silly as, is it going to be in different colors? What are we looking at, you know, down the line? Is it going to be more designed or is it going to looks more like the Oura ring? Like what are your thoughts? What do you hope to do with Lotus, and what do you hope to do with the ring?

Dhaval: Yeah. So let’s, let’s answer this in sort of 3 ways. (Janet: okay). 3 different axes, if you will. So one is, you know, how does it look and feel? So the easy answer to that is we’re definitely coming up with different sizes. We already have 3 today. It’s sort of a small, medium, large, if you will, (Janet: right).

But by the time we’re in production—we’re about 9-months away from launch— by the time we’re in production, we will have a lot more ring sizes. (Janet: right). We haven’t decided the exact number yet, but there will be a lot more ring sizes.

In addition, we already have 3 colors right now. Sort of very silver, a dark gray, and a black. We’ll probably offer more as we go. (Janet: sure). So that’s just the first axis, which is look and feel right, (Janet: first axis, right), right, (Janet: yeah).

And, for anyone interested right now, this is a brushed aluminum, so it’s very light. And so in many ways, I would say colloquially speaking, it may look and feel like the “Oura ring, for instance. Right. So it’s similar-ish material, the Oura ring I think is titanium.

Janet: Is it a problem that I keep mentioning the Oura ring? Or is it a way to…

Dhaval: No. It comes up a lot. (Janet: I’m sure). I think the way I would describe us, is, think of us as the Oura for home.

Janet: Right? Oh, there you go. Yeah.

Dhaval: That’s, that’s one way of thinking about it, right? (Janet: absolutely). And so Oura is for preventive health, we’re not focused on anything of that nature, this is specifically to be able to control the sort of universe around you from your fingertip. And so in many ways, think of it as the Oura for your home (Janet: right), and ultimately for other spaces as well.

Janet: And, just think about it this way, after you put the Oura ring on, you still have 9 fingers to, like, put on your Lotus device, right? (Dhaval: yeah). So on the other hand and be like, “boop, boop”, you know.

Dhaval: (laughs) And it’s, it’s funny you mention that. That was one of the things that came up as part of those 9-months of interviews. We asked people, what would you prefer this device be? What form factor would you like?

And there were a couple of things that popped up. One, people don’t really wear their watches to bed. They either take it out, out of habit, or they take it out because it needs to get charged every night, like an Apple watch. (Janet: correct, yup). Or, and this is real, a real quote: “It gets caught in my significant other’s hair.” (Janet: oh, laughs). And so, so that was one set of reasons.

The other is any wrist-based device, not even just at night, but any wrist-based device requires both hands in order to be able to use it. (Janet: yeah). One to lift it up, to look at the display and the other to interact with it. (Janet: sure). In addition, you have to be able to look at the device as well, so you need both hands free and to be able to look at the device, (Janet: right), not either or, both.

Janet: And it’s usually what, an inch and a half, in like size?

Dhaval: Correct. Yeah. An inch and half, or 2 inches. Yeah, exactly. (Janet: right, it’s small). And so, it’s challenging because if one of your hands is tied up like you’re carrying a child, (Janet: yeah), or grocery bags (Janet: right) or you don’t have use of one arm, then it’s difficult. (Janet: absolutely).

Or if both your hands are free, but you’re looking somewhere else, then you can’t use the device. And so the common request we kept getting is: “Can you make a device that you don’t need to look at and can be used with a single hand.” (Janet: right). And so that was the second reason. (Janet: perfect).

And then the third reason— and this is especially true for the communities of folks that we’re talking about, disability communities to be specific— they wanted things, disability communities as well as older adults actually both had the same request, which was, “can you make something that does not draw attention to us in a way we don’t want attention.” (Janet: huh). And this goes to the whole person first versus identity first nomenclature. (Janet: right). Right. (Janet: wow).

Which is, “I’m not a wheelchair user, I’m someone who uses a wheelchair.” (Janet: right). Right. And so don’t define me by the assistive technology I’m using. (Janet: interesting). And this is exactly why a lot of users don’t wear sort of the life alert. (Janet: yeah), because it draws attention to them in ways that they don’t. (Janet: no).  Why do you have that device? What, you know, I don’t have this device. Why do you have that device? What does it do?

Janet: Right. Well, I think that, that particular device has the stigma of just being old, right? (Dhaval: correct). Like that you’re unstable on your feet and you’re old… (Dhaval: right).

Dhaval: The key underlying factor is what this device is really giving you, what the ring is really giving you is independence and autonomy, which is to really fulfill the desire that each of us has, is for dignity, right? (Janet: correct). The product is not the ring, the product is the dignity that you get from the independence that it’s getting you. (Janet: right).

And to that end, there’s a famous quote that I like, that I’ve heard of, which is: “when users go to buy a drill, they’re not buying a drill, they’re buying a hole.” (Janet: oh). That’s really what they’re buying, right? (Janet: right, right, right, laughs).

And so that’s really what the technology is for. You’re really, that’s what you’re getting. The whole goal is to get dignity from the independence, (Janet: yeah), or from dignity from the autonomy, or dignity from the agency that the ring is giving you. (Janet: right). And that’s why it’s important. (Janet: huh). And so, that’s the intent.

Janet: Well, I felt like that should have been on a fortune cookie somewhere. That was quite profound as far as I was concerned, (Dhaval: laughs) but you’re absolutely right. It’s about dignity and I think your ring proves that. I mean all of what I’ve seen and what we’ve talked about. And I’m quite excited about the ring and I’m excited for you, and I think it’s going to change a lot of lives.

So, but I will ask you now the tough question. (Dhaval: sure). I’m sure you have the answer for it. So now I got to think that this is going to cost me a lot of money. Right? Always, all the new stuff is really expensive in the beginning. What are we talking about? Can I afford this on my small IDP allowance? (laughs) Can I do that?

Dhaval: (laughs) It’s a, it’s a good question. Oftentimes the assumption people have is sort of, this technology is like tens of thousands of dollars…. We wanted to make sure when we were designing this— this is truly also part of the human-centered design—we wanted to make sure it was not just physically accessible in making spaces accessible, but it was also financially accessible.

And so, 1 ring and 3 switches we think will retail for about 299-dollars. (Janet: wow, I could afford that, laughs). Yeah. Which is the same price as an Amazon Echo Show today. (Janet: wow).

And so for the same price, as 1 single smart speaker, you get an entire smart home. And of course you can always add more rings and switches, they’re all inter-connectable. There’s no pairing necessary. And so, if your friends and family have rings and they visit you, their rings will still work and vice versa. (Janet: hmm).

And so there are network effects. It’s like the telephone, where the more people that have it, the more useful your own product becomes. (Janet: wow). And so yeah, for the same price point as a single smart speaker, you can get a whole smart home.

Janet: That’s amazing. Like I said, I could actually afford that. That’s pretty great. (Dhaval: yeah). Oh, that’s wonderful.

Dhaval: They did tell us that there must be a catch. This must be 10-grand or something.

Janet: Well, that’s just it. (Dhaval: yeah). Yeah. Well, I’m glad we answered that, and I was shocked. Right. (Dhaval: yeah).

So Dhaval, take us back. I noticed that you use sort of the switchboard, the flip back and forth. (Dhaval: yeah). and in my house, I’ve got the toggles for my home. I’m assuming it works for both, correct?

Dhaval: Yeah. So just so everyone listening, toggle switches are the small switches that you have to flip up and down, (Janet: up and down), and they tend to be common in homes built pre-1970s. This is not a rule, but tends to be the case, (Janet: right).

And then there are the newer switches in homes post 1970s, which are called rockers, which are the wider, taller switches that you push into the wall, up or down. Those are the rockers, right. (Janet: right). versus toggles that you flip up and down. The nice thing is we work with both types of switches. (Janet: that’s great). Right.

Janet: So, now we know we can use it on both the toggle and also the, what did we call it? (Dhaval: the rocker switches). The rockers. (Dhaval: yeah). What about the battery life? How is the battery life on that ring? I’m assuming that it’s also, would the battery life also be on the switch plate as well?

Dhaval: Yeah, the switch cover. (Janet: yeah). Yeah. So it’s, it’s a great question. One of the reasons that we chose the technology we did, is because of the concern that users had with their risk-based devices, which is that they have to take it off every night. (Janet: correct).

So for instance, unlike an Apple watch that you have to charge every day, Or every night. Or unlike an Oura ring that you have to charge every 3-days, you only have to charge this ring once in 90-days. (Janet: wow). And the reason for that is, it’s like your TV remote. It’s only taking power for the 50-milliseconds that you push the button. (Janet: oh, right on). And the rest of the time, it’s not doing anything. It’s sort of like your TV remote batteries, right? Like when was the last thing you even changed them? (Janet: chuckles). Do you even remember?

Janet: I was just, I was laughing. I’m like, my Oura ring, it actually lasts 3-days. I was like, it’s like 5… I guess I don’t do enough, (both laugh), in order for it to run out of battery. (Dhaval: right). Oh, that made me laugh. But yeah. But you’re absolutely right, it’s a very minimal amount of time that you’re actually using it. So that makes a lot of sense. (Dhaval: correct). 90-days is fabulous. Yeah.

Dhaval: Yeah. And then on the switch cover side, it’s the same. It’s also 90-days. And again, the same reason, right? It’s only taking power for the 50- milliseconds that it’s taking to switch your switch on the wall. (Janet: right).

The rest of the time it doesn’t take any power, which is unlike any of the ‘Internet of Things’ switches that you can purchase. A, because you have to do the rewiring. But the reason that exists is anything that’s ‘Internet of Things’— anything that’s IOT— (Janet: right), has to be connected to the internet all the time. (Janet: the internet, right).

And because it has to be connected to the internet all the time, it has to draw power all the time. (Janet: correct). Hence the wires. (Janet: right). The benefit of using infrared as a core underlying technology architecture is that it’s only interrupt based. It’s like your TV remote. It only takes power for the 50- milliseconds you need it. The rest of the time it’s not drawing any power.

Janet: Right. Well, you’ve kind of teed me up for my last question here, and I have a feeling I now know what you’ll say (Dhaval: laughs), and now I know how this is all going to shake out, but I’m a big fan of technology, but I also know sometimes when we’re designing for inclusivity, and/or universal, or human-centered design, all of that really, there are detractors who have said things like, “No, no, we don’t use technology. What if you lose the remote? What if you lose the charger? What if it breaks?”

But I think in these cases, it’s usually to make sure that they can get out if there’s an emergency, that type of deal. (Dhaval: right). What do you have to say about that?

Dhaval: Let me put it this way. This is, this is going to be more philosophical than perhaps might be intended.

Janet: Well, you just did the drill with the hole, (Dhaval: laughs), so you know, you’re on roll. I’m, I’m happy to hear it.

Dhaval: Well, have, have you seen “Hamilton” the musical?

Janet: I have not, I am probably with the 10 people that have not seen it in the United States.

Dhaval: Well, it’s, yeah, it’s wonderful. I would highly recommend it. There’s this line in Hamilton, which is, “What is legacy? It’s planting seeds in the garden you never get to see.” (Janet: yeah).

And from my perspective, I want to make sure that we are building technology that continues helping people in whatever way it does, even after we’re long gone. (Janet: right). And this is not to say that it can help everyone with everything all the time. (Janet: sure).

Every technology is good at certain things and has its limitations. (Janet: correct). But I wanted to make sure that we were building something, both as a product, technology, and a company that continue with helping people even after we’re long gone. (Janet: right). And that was the intent. That’s why our thesis is building technology that’s usable by anyone, by optimizing for disability first.

So this may not be the only technology we choose to work on, and there will be other things as we, we get more and more successful. (Janet: correct). But that will always be our North Star. And I would say that’s our vision. Ultimately, it’s to build this future where there is a universe of ring controllable objects. (Janet: right).

And where caregivers, family members and clinicians can potentially subscribe to device data. (Janet: correct). So that they get peace of mind. And any person, younger or older, disabled or not disabled, renter or homeowner, can stay at home with autonomy and dignity, (Janet: right), because dignity cannot wait for better times. (Janet: interesting). That’s Lotus.

Janet: Yeah. And you know, I mean, if you come up with a ring to kind of replace the, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” that type of device, I think it would be much more successful at this point, you know, and there’s a stigma with that.

But I really appreciate you coming on today. It’s interesting, you’ve hit on so many pieces that we would really like to kind of reference. I mean, you hit on like all the buzz words. (Dhaval: laughs, thanks) You came at it from all different angles. And I really appreciate that. We’re going to have a lot of fun doing the resource page. (Dhaval: laughs).

I think that your resource page, it’ll definitely be well sourced of definitions of different words. So thank you for that. It was an unexpected surprise. (Dhaval: chuckles). So if you want to know more about UX, Universal, or Inclusive Design, just go to our webpage ‘inclusivedesigners.com’ and we will set all of that up for you so you can have all those definitions, and we’ll do links and stuff like that.

Dhaval: Yeah. Perfect.

Janet: And I’m a big fan of the ring. (Dhaval: thank you). And so I hope when it comes out, let us know so we can re-promote it on IDP. And so we can also make sure that it gets the visibility that it deserves. And this has been terrific to talk to you. And please come back when you’ve got other things to promote.

Dhaval: We would love to.

Janet: We would love to hear from you.

Dhaval: Sounds good.

Janet: And if somebody wanted to invest in this company is that a possibility at this point, or what can my $10 get? (laughs)

Dhaval: (laughs) We just closed our fundraising pre seed round (Janet: oh), about a couple of weeks ago (Janet: wow). I’m happy to say we were 200-percent oversubscribed or close to it, (Janet: oh, that’s amazing).

And so, we’re not fundraising anymore, (Janet: right), but it does go to show that there are lots of people who believe that this has tremendous potential, which is wonderful. (Janet: that’s terrific).

I will say, if there is anyone that wants to support us, please visit our website. It’s lotuslabs.org. That’s L-O-T-U-S, like the flower. L-O-T-U-S labs, L-A-B-S-dot-O-R-G.

And feel free to sign up to the newsletter. We have a limited pre-order availability because we want to sort of prioritize people with the greatest need first. And so we’re doing limited batches. And so if you’re interested, or you think it can help someone that you know, or a friend or family member, feel free to go on and pre-order.

Or just reach out to me. My email is Dhaval, D-H-A-V-A-L, at lotus labs dot org {Dhaval@Lotuslabs.org}. And just share your thoughts and comments or feedback. We love hearing from users. Like we said, we believe in human-centered design. Nothing better than hearing from the end user.

Janet: Terrific. Thank you so much, Dhaval. This was really wonderful. We appreciate you and we appreciate Lotus and thank you so much for coming on Inclusive Designers Podcast.

Dhaval: Thank you. Thank you for having me Janet. It’s been an honor and a privilege. Thank you.

Janet: Thank you, Dhaval. Have a good day.

(Music/Outro)

Janet: I find what Dhaval said about a hybrid of Inclusive and Universal design so interesting.

Carolyn: It might need a new name, maybe ‘Uni-clusive’, or ‘Inclu-versal’?

Janet: Funny, but true. But whatever it is called, I really enjoyed his philosophy that ‘technology is usable by everyone when optimized for disability first’…

Carolyn: And he also said that technology should be invisible, appearing only when needed. And that technology isn’t the end-product—it’s the impact it has on human life that is.

Janet: And do you remember what he said about using extensive user studies before starting design?

Carolyn: it has a certain Ring to it…

Janet: really?

Carolyn: you know I couldn’t resist…

Janet: I get it. I know. Seriously though, I love that in creating the ring, they believed in getting users input, their stories, and experiences – and it’s so true that it provides meaningful foundational data which is so much better than just merely using statistics.

Carolyn: Last but not least, I have to mention the wonderful quote from the play ‘Hamilton’ that Dhaval says drives him. And the quote is: “What is Legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

Janet: Exactly… inspirational words for designers, and well everyone. And we will share the link for how to contact Dhaval, and of course, the links to the innovative work he is doing, and for all the many other things that are mentioned along the way during this discussion… all on our website at: inclusive-designers-dot-com.

Carolyn: That’s: inclusivedesigners.com…

Janet: A big thank you to Dhaval. And ‘thanks’ to all of you as well for listening.

Carolyn: Along with all the regular places you get your podcasts—which now includes Pandora to replace the now defunct Stitcher— you can also find us on YouTube as, you guessed it, Inclusive Designers Podcast. And if you like what you hear, feel free to go to our website and hit that Patreon Button, or the link to our GoFundMe Page.

Janet: Yes, please do. And let us know if you have any questions or suggestions for topics you think we should be covering in upcoming shows!

And as our motto says: ’Stay Well…and Stay Well Informed’!

As always, thank you for stopping by. We’ll see you next time.

Carolyn: Yes, thanks again.

(Music up and fade out)

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