Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

The Mantis Q40

May 28, 2020 American Printing House Episode 7
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
The Mantis Q40
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
The Mantis Q40
May 28, 2020 Episode 7
American Printing House

Episode 7 is all about the brand new Mantis Q40 from APH and HumanWare. The bluetooth keyboard, with 40 cells of refreshable braille allows you to have braille at your fingertips anywhere.

Order your Mantis Q40 today: https://www.aph.org/product/mantis-q40/

Podcast Guests:
Larry Skutchan - Director of Technology Product Research at APH
Greg Stilson - Head of Global Innovation at APH
Joe Hodge - Quality Assurance Analyst at APH
Matt Poppe - Graphic Designer at APH

Show Notes Transcript

Episode 7 is all about the brand new Mantis Q40 from APH and HumanWare. The bluetooth keyboard, with 40 cells of refreshable braille allows you to have braille at your fingertips anywhere.

Order your Mantis Q40 today: https://www.aph.org/product/mantis-q40/

Podcast Guests:
Larry Skutchan - Director of Technology Product Research at APH
Greg Stilson - Head of Global Innovation at APH
Joe Hodge - Quality Assurance Analyst at APH
Matt Poppe - Graphic Designer at APH

Larry Skutchan:

I think the real need is sort of two parts. One is an affordable price and the second one, is a very comfortable way to input braille and have a full 40 cells.

Jack Fox:

Welcome to change makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Jonathan Wahl:

Welcome back to Change Makers. My name is Jonathan Wahl. Today we'll be talking all about the Mantis Q40 a refreshable braille device with 40 cells of braille and a full QWERTY keyboard. We're going to have a great time on today's episode. We'll talk with Greg Stilson about the specs behind the mantis.

Greg Stilson:

This is a phenomenal tool for a lot of the STEM subjects for learning how to computer program and things like that.

Jonathan Wahl:

Joe Hodge will be joining us talking about how easy the mantis has made his work from home experience.

Joe Hodge:

Now I get to enjoy life in a Lazy Boy.

Jonathan Wahl:

And we'll be talking with Matt Poppe about using live mantises to create promotional content for the Mantis.

Matt Poppe:

At one point a couple of weeks ago, I think Betty might've molted but I could not find her shed exoskeleton and so I'm thinking maybe she shedded.

Jonathan Wahl:

But before we get to the new APH pets, we first want to talk with today's Change Maker Larry Skutchan. Larry is the Director of Technology Product Research at APH and he's behind many of the tech innovations that APH has produced over the years. While a lot of people have been instrumental in this project, including our friends at Humanware, this is a project that started with Larry, so it's only fitting that he starts us off today. Larry, thanks for being here.

Larry Skutchan:

Well, thank you for having me on Jonathan. It's always a pleasure.

Jonathan Wahl:

Larry, people have been really excited about the Mantis, a device that has built in Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard and also 40 cells have refreshable braille. When you came up with the idea for this device, what kind of problem were you trying to solve?

Larry Skutchan:

Really, we were trying to solve several problems at once and the main one was to be able to have a comfortable input method that always had a braille display with it. So really your QWERTY keyboard with the braille display attached, and that way you know, you can walk from computer to computer. Um, uh, another problem that we were trying to solve is, you know, nowadays we're all walking around with phone in our pocket or purse, a tablet, maybe two or three computers and, the Mantis will connect to all of them. It's a simple command to switch from one to the other. So you've always got the same keyboard, same braille display. And it's nice because you can just walk up to any computer anywhere. And actually the mantis like a regular keyboard. It's not until you run the screenwriter that the braille display portion of it comes into action.

Larry Skutchan:

So the idea is really to have an input method where you can type anything. Mainly, you know, I think most of us will agree that typing on QWERTY is probably faster than braille, although a lot of us love braille input and braille input is so much better in terms of space. But when you've got um, you know, 40 cells, braille space is already out the window so to speak. But so yeah, the idea was to have something that you could enter technical documents, programming, anything you wanted to just as quick input, possibly couldn't get a good, comfortable, comfortable with. So like I said, we're trying to solve a few problems all at once.

Jonathan Wahl:

Right. And it really looks like you have. Larry, a lot of great new features come with the mantis. What do you think the need is for this product?

Larry Skutchan:

Well, um, you know, if you look through the history of braille display, there has been some with QWERTY keyboards, but they've always been very expensive and you know, they were earlier on in the history and they weren't able to connect to multiple devices. So I think the real need is sort of two part. One is an affordable price. And the second one is like we were saying in the first question, I'm very comfortable way to input braille and have a, a full 40 cell. Um, you know, it's so easy now to see 20 or 32 cells, but um, and nobody knows what the ideal number is. It really depends on, on you and what kind of applications you put it to. But to have a 40 cell line is a luxury, you know, especially at this price point. That's the need where we're really filling is a affordable, full first class. Um, sort of device with easy input, uh, braille and it's got, you know, local applications too. And Jonathan, I think this is what's significant cause we're not, we're not trying to be all things to all people. We've limited the onboard applications to simple things like reading books or taking notes. So if you want to browse the internet or do email, you just connect it to right phone or to your computer. And that way the, the big guys, so to speak and take care of all the advances, you know, the web is changing. So fast, we get four or five new browsers a year, browser versions a year. Web pages are constantly changing and there's no way of a small company like us or work and possibly keep up with that. So we shift that burden over to the big guys and then use the mainstream technology for what it's best at. Used our specialized technology for what it's best at. So well we expect really that you'll take your mantis through several generations of computers or phones and you know there's no need to replace it because there's, well nothing is a big word or I'll say nothing to go obsolete.

Larry Skutchan:

That's important though because so much technology doesn't last long. So if it can stand the test of time as other things develop that that saves money is important for people not to be keep on switching. So I love that aspect of it. You know, when APH is working on any product, we're always looking at what does this mean for the end user? How is it going to help people? What do you hope the impact in people's, both just their general life or you know, even their workflow, what are you hoping the impact will be for them?

Larry Skutchan:

And I hope the impact will be, they'll have braille whenever they need it and whenever they want it. Uh, so important. Um, you can get by with speech sentences. Sure. But when you've got braille, it's a whole nother dimension. Don't, don't even try to multitask with speech in a meeting and something else going on. When you've got braille there, you know, you can, you can participate in just as well as anybody and you know, as far as formatting and reading, you know, just to be able to have braille with you on every device no matter what you're doing is huge. Huge. And so if we can accomplish that, I think there's not much more we can ask for.

Jonathan Wahl:

Now Larry, I know this isn't your first product you've developed. If you say Larry Skutchan in our field, people know who you are and they know you've, you've come up with a lot of great ideas and worked with your team to bring them to market. But for this and just in general, what is it like for you to have an idea and then see it become final and then a life changing product that's being sold out there?

Larry Skutchan:

Well, you can imagine the gratification, Jonathan. It's a, and you know, you work in at APH, you and you look, you're getting a taste of it now too. People appreciate the kinds of products we put out in. It makes you very proud that you're able to change somebody's life. It really does. That's, that's really all I can say.

Jonathan Wahl:

Well, thanks so much Larry. I really appreciate the work you do and for taking the time to talk with me today. And um, it's just exciting as we, as we get this product out on the market and it'll be fun to see everyone's feedback once they get to start using it.

Larry Skutchan:

Thank you John. Pleasure to talk with you.

Jonathan Wahl:

From concept to final product, the much anticipated mantis is now for sale at aph.org and we want to talk about what makes the product tick. So to tell us everything we need to know about the Mantis, Greg Stilson, head of global innovation at APH has joined me. Greg, thanks for being here.

Greg Stilson:

Hey, thanks for having me on.

Jonathan Wahl:

So Greg, just for people who don't know much about what the Mantis is can you describe to me this product?

Greg Stilson:

Yeah, absolutely. So the mantis is a first of its kind. Um, it is an all-in-one QWERTY keyboard with an embedded, uh, 40 cell braille display with cursor router keys attached to it. I always, you know, a lot of people call it a braille display first. I actually refer to this as almost a, it's a Bluetooth keyboard with an embedded braille display.

Jonathan Wahl:

So let's talk a little bit about specs. What's inside the Matnis? It's more than just the display you see and feel.

Greg Stilson:

You got it. Yep. So this, when most people think of a refreshable braille display, they think of it as something that must be connected to other tools to be really productive. This, this does all that. Um, but it does it a little differently. And then in addition, it has some built in intelligence that makes it a really powerful, uh, productivity tool without being connected to anything else. And so I'll start with, um, what's different about it when it's connected to other tools? So first off, when it's connected to other tools, um, it's not using your traditional, uh, Bluetooth connection that, uh, is used for other braille displays. When you connect the mantas to other devices, it's connecting with the standard human interface device hid protocol that a regular Bluetooth keyboard or USB keyboard would connect to it. But what makes that really awesome is that it works in conjunction with your screen readers on various devices. But it also, if you turn off your screen reader can still control the device as if you're using a regular Bluetooth keyboard. Whereas other devices like other refresh will braille displays. If you turn off the screen reader, they're rendered generally, um, you know, useless at that point. So that's when you're connected to other tools. By itself though, it has a suite of applications inside of it that if you're not connected and using it, say in a classroom or in a meeting or at home, you don't have to be connected to other devices to be productive with it. So it has a basic editor inside of it. It can read a Microsoft word files, it can read text files. Um, and you can edit. When you create a document, you create a text file. Um, and it has, you know, it doesn't, it's, it's not a full word processor, it's a note taker.

Greg Stilson:

Um, so you're able to take your regular notes. You can do find commands to look for certain things in documents and things like that. Um, it does have a USB port host port on the side, so you can save your files to a thumb drive or you can read files from a thumb drive. It also has an SD card slot that takes, uh, SD cards up to 64 gigabytes and it's charged with, with a USBC connection. And that's, that's really important because the USBC, if for those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's the connection that you can plug in. Either way, you can flip it upside down, right, set up and it doesn't matter. So there's as somebody who has broken many of the prongs of the micro USB ports, I'm a big fan of the USBC connector. So in addition to the editor, um, there's a really powerful book reader.

Greg Stilson:

Uh, it's a library application that in the device we have a built in wifi connection. So on top of the Bluetooth connection, we have a wifi connection and you're able to, uh, use the wifi connection to log in to bookshare.org with your Bookshare username and password and be able to on the fly, download your books directly to the device and read them. And what's really cool about that is that you can download them using your preferred Bookshare setting. So if you prefer, if you're the person who likes to download in Daisy format so that you can nap page to page, chapter to chapter, things like that, you can do that right on the device. So, especially if you're just reading for leisure or things like that, you can, you can read directly on this device. Um, and then if you are an NFP newsline subscriber as well, uh, you can log in so that service with your credentials and have your newspapers and publications sent to you, uh, directly on this tool as well.

Greg Stilson:

In addition to the library application, we have a basic calculator. So if you need to do some quick calculations on this, um, you're, you can, you can do that. Uh, and then there's a clock and a file manager as well. And that file manager. I, I, I just want to mention from a student perspective, I'm a big fan of teaching file management and organization techniques. You know, sighted kids, uh, have file folders and things in their backpack and because of the use of digital formats for, for students who are blind and low vision, um, it's really important to build those same, uh, organizational skills, but do it in a digital format in that, in that file manager. So you can create folders, organize files, add and remove files to, uh, to different folders. And such.

Jonathan Wahl:

Awesome. And you know, all of our braille devices are important, but this one's unique. So what does make this device so important in our market?

Greg Stilson:

That's a great question. Um, traditionally and so as the innovation here, I really, one of the things I really ask all the time when we're talking about new products is why, why are we building them? What's the need that we're looking to solve here? The big need that we heard from teachers of the visually impaired. And we heard from professionals that when when typing on a QWERTY keyboard or learning how to type an a QWERTY keyboard, oftentimes the student was coming from a, a background of using a six key entry device, like a traditional braille note taker using a refreshable braille display with six key entry. And they were often apprehensive to move to a QWERTY keyboard. And part of the reason for their apprehension was that their comfort device, the device that they were comfortable with, the six key entry braille device, it's often was getting left in a backpack or a book bag or something like that and not coming with them, the computer.

Greg Stilson:

Even though these devices could technically connect to a computer and provide refreshable braille. So this device is an all-in-one QWERTY keyboard and you can do all, you can use even for example, our APH typer online app, a web application that we were, we're releasing now. Um, you can use the mantis to learn too, learn how to type, but you can do that in conjunction with reading all of the voice feedback and braille and having all the content in braille with it the same at the same time. And from a, you know, being a technology person myself and heavy, having gone through computer programming classes, this is a phenomenal tool for a lot of the STEM subjects for, for learning how to computer program and things like that. Having that refreshable braille right beneath the QWERTY keyboard and being able to, to interface with that, be able to curse or route directly to an error in your syntax and things like that and do it all with a traditional QWERTY keyboard is really powerful.

Jonathan Wahl:

At APH, we've been adding a lot of braille devices to our product line. We know this is very important to, we kind of are trying to have something for everyone who is the Mantis for who, what's the target market? Who do we think will benefit from it?

Greg Stilson:

You know, I know it's going to sound cheesy, but I personally believe it's for anybody. Yeah. I think it's really important as a blind person myself to have the skills of knowing six key braille entry and Cordy keyboard entry. That's the more tools that we have in our toolbox, the better. Right? And so, um, I sort of see this as a progression tool that as the student starts out their learning skill, six key entry really as a, as a a companion to their literacy, right? The learning, learning braille literacy. So you're learning how to read, how to write those contractions in six key entry. That's really impactful. Um, but then as you do move up and you students today are learning to use high-tech computer programs. I, my, my godson for example, is eight and he's already doing PowerPoint presentations right? For, for his classes.

Greg Stilson:

And so you need to learn how to type at younger and younger ages. And so I see this as a progression tool that goes beyond a six key braille entry device. So students who are learning to type and eventually getting into, you know, higher ed classes and things like that. In my view, this is sort of that, not to use a Lord of the Rings reference, but it's the one keyboard to rule them all kind of thing, right? Like this is something that can go from device to device, from classroom to classroom, and it will connect to virtually any tool that you're going to connect to. Um, and, and really all the move with you all the way through your higher education and into your, uh, into your workplace as well. And that's, that's another piece of the puzzle. Right?

Jonathan Wahl:

Thanks so much Greg. I am a Lord of the rings fan, so I'm already writing. You know, what that new slogan is: One device to rule them all and in the darkness find the errors. Perfect. We should be professional marketers or something.

Greg Stilson:

Great. There you go. I love it.

Jonathan Wahl:

All right, well I really appreciate it and I'm just excited for people to start getting this in the mail and hearing how it's changing their lives and how they're using it in their workplace and at school.

Greg Stilson:

Definitely

Jonathan Wahl:

Coming up, we are going to talk about our new office mascots, the Mantises, Betty and Alfred. But first I want to talk to a braille user about how the mantis is going to be helpful in day to day life. To do that, I reached out to Joe Hodge, a quality assurance analyst for APH. He had a chance to use the mantis for some time. Joe, thanks for being here.

Joe Hodge:

Thanks for having me Jonathan.

Jonathan Wahl:

So Joe, you've used the mantis, you've tested it and you've really said it. It's been such a great tool. Tell me a little bit about how it's beneficial in your day to day work.

Joe Hodge:

So a few things I use the for consistently is I will, um, so it has an NFB capability for NSB newsline. What I'll do is before leaving my house, I will download the paper on my wifi and then when I get on the bus, this is of course pre COVID 19. But when I get on the bus, I would read the newspaper and uh, get to work and then go to my desk and start work. I could just plug it into my windows keyboard and then start using it with jaws or NVDA or voiceover, whichever. Uh, I, I test a lot of different operating systems and with, uh, with different computers. So the fact that I can just plug this in through USBC or use Bluetooth really makes it very convenient to go between different, um, systems.

Jonathan Wahl:

So the great thing about this then is just the ease of use, having it all together.

Joe Hodge:

Yes. So, um, like now that we're all kind of working from home, I actually have it Bluetooth to my Mac. I have of course Bluetooth headphones and I can sit way away from my computer, read the braille display, listen to the speech. And it's amazing. I was, um, I hadn't really thought of it when I first started working at home and I kind of got a bad back sitting on a wood chair and then I was like, Oh wait, I'm going to do this. And uh, cause I didn't have the mantis at first. And then I got, uh, my, my boss brought me the Mantis, uh, to my house and now I get to enjoy life in the lazy boy. So it's, it's really, it really has great. Um, the, the product is so light as well. So I have, um, a Mac book pro for example. And I have this, uh, there roughly the same size and, and sort of the same weight. It kind of feels like they're, you know, they're not much difference. And in bulkiness. So what I do now is I carry this, the, the Mantis and put it in my backpack and I actually take it places over the MacBook because I can connect right to my, my phone where I can connect to local mode, write notes quickly, um, and also read the newspaper. So I, I really love it. It kind of has fit into my life more than I thought. You know, when, when we first started designing this product, I was kinda like, okay, it's a QWERTY keyboard, I'm going to leave it on my desk all the time. Uh, but I actually find myself taking it more and more with me, um, and using it, you know, as I travel.

Jonathan Wahl:

You said enjoy life from your lazy boy. And I love that. That's what, that's what we should all be doing right now if we're working from home.

Joe Hodge:

Exactly.

Jonathan Wahl:

Joe, I know before you came to work at APH you worked in an office job and you would mention that having something like the mantis could have been really beneficial. Can you walk me through for someone working in an office how this could really just be beneficial for their workflow?

Joe Hodge:

Yes. So I worked in an insurance company where we had um, I had a computer with jaws and I had a, another the braille display, 40 cell braille display. So you had the keyboard and then I had to position the braille display to where I thought it was most comfortable. So I usually put it on the left hand side. So if someone calls in, I have jaws in one year, the person in another ear, and then I'm reading braille off to the left. So you know, they're reading their phone number, I'm reading it back a braille, just verifying. Uh, and then I have to move my hands back over to the right to the court. So it was a lot of constant movement. You know, just you're, you're turning your body, you're, you're sort of moving. And I don't wanna say unnatural ways, but just more so than you'd probably need to.

Speaker 6:

The Mantis is great because you get the QWERTY input. Uh, so you're, you know, you can keep your hands in the normal typing position and then when you need to read the braille, you just dropped down and read the braille display and then you can go back up to typing. So I think it's less interruption and less thinking about it. Cause sometimes, you know, the braille display was a different, it's a, it was a different device. So if you bump it, it's going to move out of place. And then you have to fiddle with it to get it back in place where you had it and then, then it's never quite right. Cause I'm, you know, a little OCD I guess. But um, it's, it's, it's just, you know, having one device now for this, for everything is, has really made a world of difference. And I kind of wish I could have, I don't want to do my old job again, but I wish I could, uh, you know, experience the, the old job with the Mantis cause I think it would make it more desirable.

Jonathan Wahl:

Thanks Joe. It's so good just to hear what the application, um, from, from an end user and knowing that it's going to continue to help other people out there with their workflows and their, their jobs. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and it's, it'll be exciting to see as we all use this product more.

Joe Hodge:

Definitely. Thank you. Jonathan.

Jonathan Wahl:

Last stop on today's podcast: We're talking all about the new office pets for the communications team at APH. When we named the Mantis, we came up with this idea that we wanted to have a live Mantis for an introduction video on social media, one where a mantis crawls across the keyboard. Here's the audio from our final video :

Voice Over:

Here we have a variety of the Mantodea more commonly known as the praying mantis watch as this wise and fearless creature walks alone. But what do we have here? It's come across a numerous species of mantis, the mantis Q4 from APH with a full QWERTY keyboard and 40 cell braille display. What a majestic creature.

Jonathan Wahl:

So to make this happen, we ordered two live mantises on Amazon. Did you know you could buy a live Mantis on Amazon? Well you can, and we did. I want to assure you that Betty and Alfred were and are well taken care of. I've asked Matt Pope, a graphic designer at APH and now our mantis caretaker to join us on the podcast. Matt, can you confirm that no mantises were harmed in the making of the video and this podcast?

Matt Poppe:

Yes. Yes they are. They're still doing fine. They've got a new digs and plenty of flies to eat. So

Jonathan Wahl:

What does it take to, take care of those mantises there?

Matt Poppe:

Not much. They're, they're very independent and uh, they've each got a little, uh, fishbowl tank, but I put them in with some sticks and some leaves and a little, uh, bottle cap full of fruit fly food. And then I've dropped some fruit, flies in each container and the fruit flies live off the food and lay eggs in it. And so the mantis is always have a continuous supply of flies. And usually they just sit around and wait for a fly to wander too close and then they snap it up.

Jonathan Wahl:

The leisurely life.

Matt Poppe:

Yup.

Jonathan Wahl:

This is to my knowledge, the very first time APH has used live, um, you know creatures for a, campaign. What went through your head when you first found out we were purchasing live mantises.

Matt Poppe:

I said okay. And then I don't know how, but somehow I was, I was volunteered, to be the mantis person. So I have two mantis children.

Jonathan Wahl:

You're a proud father and a good parent. We appreciate it. So, you know, for this video, the mantis is one at a time. You know, we had an understudy, um, are crawling across this braille device. What did it take to get them to move and, and not just you know fly, fly off.

Matt Poppe:

Fortunately the mantises, before they reach adulthood, they're not very, very fast. They, they're not very crazy. They, they're ambush predators. So they basically just sit around and wait for something to wander along and then they eat it. So it wasn't really hard to keep them from running away. Um, it was hard to get them moving though. Um, we basically tried the basics of just poking and prodding them and you know, trying to get them to walk and then they'd stop and be like, what are you doing? Are you poking me? Uh, eventually we found that using flies as bait was pretty effective. So we, uh, brought a few flies in and positioned them where we wanted the mantis to walk to and then the mantis would see the fly and get curious and start wandering in that direction. And that was how we got some of the, the shots of the mantis crawling over the, uh, over the, over the Mantis, uh, keyboard. Uh, it was pretty much that simple. We didn't really have to do much. We just, it was mostly just took patience and, and watching and waiting to see what the medicines would do and keeping the cameras trained on them. So.

Jonathan Wahl:

It was a pretty, pretty fun day at work. Well, I appreciate it, Matt. I hope that Alfred and Betty continued to do well and keep us updated on their, their health.

Matt Poppe:

They're doing pretty good here.

Jonathan Wahl:

If you would like to learn more about the Mantis Q40 or purchase your own, I've included the URL in the podcast show notes. That's it for today's episode of Changemakers. Be sure to look for ways you can be a Change Maker this week.