With Google testing self-driving cars and virtual reality headsets taking over the gaming world, the future is now. Kevin Wong is putting cutting edge technology at our fingertips, almost literally, with his invention, the Orii ring. The first ever ‘fully capable communication smart ring’, when connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth, this handy piece of equipment can help you call a loved one or read a text directly to your ear simply by pressing it to the side of your head. So impressive is the technology that last month Wong emerged victorious at the Mills Fabrica Pitch Day, a prestigious ‘techstyle’ competition with a $100,000 cash prize.
A graduate of New York University with majors in international relations and East Asian studies, Wong never dreamed of becoming an inventor. Following the completion of his studies he was expected to return to Hong Kong and help with the family business. However, Wong’s father, visually impaired since the age of 13, was finding it increasingly difficult to interact with a smartphone-reliant society. It was witnessing these struggles that inspired Wong to turn his focus away from the family’s watch business and on to creating a device that would change the way we interact with our smartphones.
Although neither Wong nor Marcus Leung-shea, his friend and business partner, had experience with electrical engineering, the pair taught themselves everything necessary to do with circuits, magnetic conduction and acoustics, becoming experts in their field. Wong says: “With enough time, with enough effort, if you spend every day trying to chip away at something, anyone can really understand anything. We want to be able to understand the space that we play in and be able to contribute and really push the envelope.” Wong’s experiments led to the first of hundreds of iterations of the Orii ring, which in its final state uses the physical vibrations produced by sound, which reverberate through our bones, to transmit information. Connected to the internet via Bluetooth, the ring becomes a voice assistant that you can use and wear at all times.
This is Wong’s vision for the future of wearable tech. According to him, this technology can be more than a glorified pedometer and voice assistants don’t need to be stuck in your car. Wong sees Orii as the start of an entirely new category of wearable tech that could revolutionise the market as a whole. “We believe in disruptive technology for the greater good,” he states. “Just because something is assistive technology doesn’t mean it’s not a mass-market device. By helping one small group of people, you’ve made things easier for everyone. So if a visually impaired person can use his smartphone screen-free, why don’t we learn from them? We should be inspired by them to use our devices in new ways.”
On a whim, Wong decided to enter the Mills Fabrica Pitch Day. “The startup journey is all about figuring out things that you’re no good at,” he says, “and exploring your own skills and understanding your limitations. We understood one of the missing elements of our business is fashion. We realised that if you stick something on someone’s hand, it has to look good. Fashion has to come first. It was that simple. This competition will help us make a better looking ring.”
Fresh off his win, Kevin is incredibly grateful to Mills Fabrica, particularly for its role in encouraging local entrepreneurs. “At the end of the day, Hong Kong is not a place without talent. What is lacking is the faith and the desire to really push the envelope,” remarks Wong. “But I’m very positive. It’s an exciting time to be here. There are benefits to being a part of something that is growing.” Despite his company’s still limited resources Wong is keen to give back to the entrepreneurial ecosystem that fostered his enterprise. Wong says: “No matter what your background, your limitations are really only set by yourself. If you have an idea, pursue it. Ask the questions, start working and you never know where you can go.” Rachel Lau
The Orii ring is currently available for preorder. Visit the project’s Kickstarter page for more information at orii.io.