Emerging Tech – Exploring the ReBokeh app with Rebecca Rosenburg

Rebecca Rosenburg, who has blond hair and is wearing a red top, holding a smartphone

NCBI Labs recently caught up with Rebecca Rosenberg, developer of the ReBokeh app. Designed for people with low vision, the app works much like an augmented reality filter for real life, allowing users to customise how they see their world through their smartphone.

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Rebecca Rosenberg and I am the CEO of ReBokeh, the creator of the ReBokeh app. The idea for ReBokeh came as a direct result of my personal experience growing up with albinism, a rare genetic condition that effects the body’s ability to produce melanin, and which impacts visually function significantly. Growing up I found myself in the middle part of the vision impairment spectrum in that I had a lot of functional vision, but still struggled with many tasks like reading menus and keeping track of the ball at sporting events. Plus, my condition is uncorrectable in that it can’t be fixed with glasses or any other treatments.

When I was going through school, I was disappointed that all the assistive technologies that were available were enormous, expensive, outdated, and difficult to use. As an adult I determined that part of the problem was that a lot of this technology had been designed for the blind – to totally replace vision entirely– instead of for someone like me who really just needed to enhance the functional vision I did have. All in all, it became clear that no one had ever considered my condition as they were designing these devices.

Ultimately, I went to school for biomedical engineering and received my bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University, and then my Masters in Bioengineering Innovation and Design at Johns Hopkins University. I started ReBokeh during the Summer of 2019, after my 3rd year of college to ensure that those with moderate vision impairments would have the type of technology they needed to succeed too.

What is the ReBokeh App and how does it work? Where did it get its distinctive name?
The name ReBokeh comes from the photography term “Bokeh” which is the blurry balls of light you get in the background of an image when the background is out of focus. Re-Bokeh is meant to be a re-clarifying of what is out of focus. The ReBokeh app is an iOS app that allows users with vision impairments to create custom video filters and overlay them on a live camera feed from their device so that they can personalize how the world looks to be best suited to their needs. It works a little like Snapchat and allows you to see the best version of the real world through your device. ReBokeh is already helping thousands of users all over the world to do things like play board games, follow along in class or with presentations, play in music groups, navigate indoors and outdoors, and more!

What was the original inspiration behind developing this app?
The ReBokeh app was conceived of my own personal experience with assistive devices, but it was important to us that we engaged the low vision community as much as possible as we developed the technology. To that end, ReBokeh spent a year in beta with a group of users who worked with us every step of the way providing feedback and guidance so that it could be the most useful tool possible. Many of our original users still use ReBokeh today and continue to share their experience with us so that we can improve ReBokeh for everyone! If you would like to be a part of this beta group too and receive early access to new features, we welcome you to reach out to us!

How does someone download ReBokeh, and is it a free app?
ReBokeh is currently free to download on the iOS App Store! You can get it here: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/rebokeh/id1557588655

Any future plans to develop ReBokeh further?
We can’t share them yet, but we have lots of exciting new things in the works for ReBokeh and we can’t wait to show you!

Can someone contact you with questions or comments about ReBokeh?
Yes! You can reach out to us via the Contact Us page on our website: www.rebokeh.com/contact-us. Messages come directly to a member of our team and we will get back to you.