In a groundbreaking development, Kara Technologies has emerged as one of the recipients of a pivotal $500,000 scale-up funding initiative, courtesy of Australian Red Cross, in collaboration with the Telstra Foundation.

This significant infusion of funding will help to catalyse Kara’s innovative avatar technology, paving the way for the creation of an accessible and user-friendly sign language program, specifically designed to seamlessly integrate with emergency broadcast messages across the vast expanse of Australia. What makes this initiative even more remarkable is its potential to transcend borders, as Kara’s technology promises to render these vital messages comprehensible in any sign language worldwide.

This ambitious endeavour draws inspiration from its successful implementation in Aotearoa New Zealand, where Kara’s avatar technology has already left an indelible mark. Notably, this cutting-edge technology played an instrumental role in facilitating the translation of information during New Zealand’s COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns into New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), ensuring equitable access to crucial information for our Deaf and hearing-impaired communities.

Who are Kara Technologies and how did they start?

Kara improves the accessibility and quality of service for people who are Deaf by translating customer-facing content using a hyper-realistic computer-generated sign language avatar and an AI engine. Kara is known for its dedication to inclusivity and accessibility-focused innovation here in Aotearoa New Zealand and is now set to make a significant impact with the Australian Deaf Community.

Kara has gone from strength to strength since it spun out of the University of Auckland in 2017 with seed funding from the University of Auckland Inventors Fund – and after winning the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship $100k Velocity Challenge. Kara has since raised further investment from Soul Capital and picked up several awards and Grants from international organisations.

In 2020, cofounder and CEO Arash Tayebi was recognised in the 2020 Meaningful Business 100, an award celebrating business leaders from around the world combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; (4) Quality Education and (10) Reducing Inequality.

And for Arash the journey is a very personal one. Diagnosed with Ménière’s disease in 2016, Arash lost his hearing in his left ear and had a 30 percent chance of deafness in his right ear.

Arash was a University of Auckland PhD student in electronics at the time and came up with the idea of more realistic digital avatars to help Kelston Deaf Education Centre, (now known as Ko Taku Reo Deaf Education New Zealand) and now, Kara is heading towards achieving their goal to provide 24/7 digital availability of sign language access for scenarios such as emergency messaging.

“This journey has been deeply personal – facing my own hearing loss battle ignited the fire to create something meaningful. We’re not just changing lives; we’re rewriting the script for inclusivity in a digital age. From adversity to innovation, we’re on a mission to ensure sign language is always within reach, especially in critical times like emergency messaging,” says Arash Tayebi.

Kara’s latest success story – a timeline.

Kara’s journey towards their current success began at the November 2022 Humanitech Lab, an innovation program aimed at supporting organisations addressing pressing social and humanitarian challenges through technological innovation. An initiative of Australian Red Cross, Kara was one of seven startups selected to receive support for scaling their impact.

The Kara team embarked on two trips to Australia in November 2022, visiting Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, where they received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Committed to their philosophy of “For Deaf with Deaf,” the team involved the Deaf community in every step of their process, employing a local Australian Sign Language (Auslan) user to assist in five workshops across the three cities. The demand for accessible emergency information was unmistakable, especially considering the recent major fires, floods, and COVID-19 outbreaks in Australia, which had limited access to emergency information.

During their second trip, Kara set up a booth at the Sydney Deaf Festival in late November 2022, where their technology received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Humanitech’s focus on harnessing technology for the greater good, with a focus on humanity, led to the provision of $50,000 in funding to the seven selected organizations, along with support for ethical and inclusive technological design validation.

In May of the same year, Kara made the cut to receive an additional $100k in grant funding, capacity building, and support to pilot their technology in communities across Australia.

The Kara Technologies team (L-R): Sahar Izadi, Arash Tayebi, Demetrios Kourti, Richard Falla, Grace Covey and Farmehr Farhour, doing the Emma Memma pose.

Fast forward to October, Kara was chosen to contribute to positive change and align with the core work of Australian Red Cross in inclusion, preparedness, resilience, and recovery. As part of this collaboration, they were awarded a portion of a of $500k grant to expand their groundbreaking sign language projects and champion innovation in Australian Deaf communities. The other to receive grant funding from the original seven is AirSeed, an initiative that utilises drone and bio-technology to regenerate land at scale across Australia.

“We are humbled but delighted to be chosen. But we also take pride that the work we are doing, and will continue to do, will bring such immense benefit to the Deaf community in Australia,” says Arash.

The mahi (work)

Kara will leverage their avatar technology to create a sign language program that seamlessly integrates with emergency broadcast messages and other forms of communication using motion capture (mo-cap). This concept involves pre-recording clips of emergency messages, which are then seamlessly combined with animation blending. The separate clips are stored on a website, creating a single video that can be attached to SMS outreach programs via a link to the website with the video content.

“The benefits of this innovation are monumental, providing Deaf individuals with instant access to life-saving information in their native language, simultaneously with the rest of the population. What sets this technology apart is its adaptability, as it can be translated into any sign language in the world. All that’s required is a native sign language user and the Kara team’s expertise,” Arash explains.

With one in six Australians impacted by hearing loss, Kara is committed to inclusivity, ensuring increased access to sign language in emergencies using their “digital human” avatars. Kara Technologies will collaborate with Deaf communities, Australian Red Cross Emergency Services team, and emergency management agencies in New South Wales to provide fast and on-demand Auslan, the sign language used by the majority of the Australian Deaf community, during emergencies.

This technology’s potential isn’t limited to Australia alone, as there are more than 1.5 billion people globally living with hearing loss, including around 430 million with disabling hearing loss. By 2050, this number is expected to exceed 700 million. Australia’s embrace of this transformative technology marks a new era of inclusivity and accessibility, setting the stage for a future where no one is left behind during times of emergency.

What will Kara do next?

With this groundbreaking success, Kara Technologies is now poised to broaden its horizons. The company will be significantly more active in Australia, with the support of Australian Red Cross, to explore potential avenues for enhancing emergency information preparedness. Kara is deeply committed to improving accessibility for the Deaf community in all aspects of life, not just in emergencies. Therefore, the team is keen to investigate how their innovative technology can be applied to other sectors, such as education. By working closely with local communities, Kara aims to create a more inclusive environment where access to information is seamless and universal, regardless of language or hearing abilities. The journey towards global inclusivity is just beginning, and Kara Technologies is at the forefront, leading the way.

NZ Entrepreneur news team

Supporter Spotlight: Offers and services from NZ Entrepreneur supporters!


Spout Milk



You might also like...