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How an engineer created a voice command app to become more independent

Graphic illustration of three people talking, two of them holding phones in their hands

Editor’s note: Pramit Bhargava is a computer engineer and founder of Louie, an app for the visually impaired to have full voice control over third party mobile applications.

When I was about 30 years old, I started having problems with my vision. I was born perfectly sighted, but over the course of my adulthood, my vision deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t read anything. My family and friends, of course, wanted to help me with my everyday tasks — and for a while, they had to do that. But I wanted to gain my independence back and feel more confident in my abilities. As a computer engineer, I felt like I could create a solution that could not only help me but help others in my situation.

By coincidence, I discovered TalkBack — the Google screen reader built into every Android device. I found that it was really useful in helping me navigate my phone, and I started getting my confidence back. Even with a screen reader, though, I really struggled with certain tasks. In particular, calling a rideshare service was really difficult. I was never sure if I got the destination right, or if my transactions were going through.

A man in a blue striped shirt pointing to his mobile phone screen, which has a picture of a circle and the words “Your Friend for Life” on it

If only I could do transactions with a simple voice command, it would make my life much easier. And if it could help me, it could help so many others, too. As someone who really understands the need, I had a very concrete idea of what I wanted this app to look like. I wanted an app that could connect with other third-party app, and then control them with just my voice. It needed to be able to confirm each action I was taking so that I was sure of what I was doing.

A group of people having a meeting around a desk in a room

Pramit and his associates working on the app

So by using Google’s Speech-to-Text API for speech-to-text transcription and the accessibility features that were already built into Android devices, we were able to develop what became the LOUIE VOICE CONTROL: Assistant app — named after Louis Braille, who built the original Braille system. If we could build something that had even a small percentage of what Braille has done for visually impaired people, that would be something to aspire to. Had Android not existed, I don’t think we could’ve built this out.

Today, people across 110 countries are using LOUIE. It’s been heartwarming to hear from people all over the world how LOUIE has helped them live their day-to-day lives. A 19-year-old from Jamaica called me once to tell me that he was able to send a text message to someone for the first time in his life. He told me that LOUIE is his eyes now — and that’s the hope that I want to give to visually impaired people everywhere.

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