INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Origami Labs raises US$2.5m to reshape the wearables market

'Orii' allows the visually-challenged to operate phones via voice technology.

Hong Kong-based Origami Labs has raised $2.5m in its recent funding round last June to help jumpstart its vision of reshaping the consumer electronics market with its inventive smart ring ‘Orii’.

Drawing inspiration from his visually impaired father, founder Kevin Johan Wong along with Marcus Leung-Shea and Yan Shun Li, developed Orii to help visually challenged people operate their phone through voice assistance technology.

As the ring communicates with the phone via Bluetooth, users are then able to receive notifications, make and take phone calls, send text messages, and handle daily tasks all without taking out their phones as Orii “put the power of the smartphone on your finger,” according to Wong. This is achieved through Bluetooth and advanced bone conduction technology widely used for medical-grade hearing devices that transforms sound into physical vibration that proceeds to travel via the finger.

After the user presses a button, the ring will either read out the information like an audible text message or users can jump in on a current call. Orii enables users to engage with their smartphone seamlessly as it communicates with Siri or Google Assistant whilst the user is on-the-go and unable to access the phone.

Screen-free technology
Launched in 2017, Orii has already sold 5,000 boxes with orders coming mainly from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan as well as Europe and the United States. A set of rings sells for $160 after production in Taiwan and final assembly in China. “Orii breaks us away from our screens: almost all our interactions with technology involve a screen. We are screen addicts, distracting us from our environment and from people around us. Orii is the first device to deliver screen-free technology in a wearable,” added Wong.

The founders of Orii got the idea as students at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in November 2015. Tracing its origins, Orii was a result of 17 prototypes that could provide up to 1.5 hours of talk time and 45 hours of standby. 

Wong believes there is a wealth of opportunity in the wearables market beyond smart watches and fitness bands as the technology has since moved from being considered a fad to a global movement that has seen 21% of online adults in the US adopting the technology. “Advances in voice interfaces means that we are on the cusp of a voice interface revolution.” 

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