Unilever to Expand AI Technology to Support Accessibility

Unilever Announces Partnership with the Be My Eyes Mobile app to Offer AI-Powered Virtual Assistance for Blind Shoppers, Expanding AI Technology use

AI could become a vital tool to improve accessibility. Committing itself to achieving this goal, Unilever has partnered with accessibility app specialists Be My Eyes to introduce AI-assisted cooking for blind and low vision shoppers.

Developing a solution such as this aims to connect people who are blind or low-vision to a network of volunteers and AI-powered virtual assistance to expand their AI use. This new partnership builds on Accessible QR (AQR), developed by computer vision specialists Zappar.

The project is part of Unilever’s global strategy to use new digital experiences and technology to evolve and differentiate how shoppers interact with and use Unilever’s products.

A new era in product accessibility 

Be My Eyes is the only completely free-to-use app that allows users with blindness, low-vision or deaf-blindness to receive live accessible information from volunteers, trained customer support representatives and AI assistants. 

The organisation also announced its Be My AI product in November 2023 - a virtual volunteer powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4. It has committed to improving accessibility for both customers and employees of large technology organisations like Microsoft, where individuals can use Be My AI to handle a wide range of complex use cases, including the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk.

Now, Unilever is trialling the technology in the UK via its Colman’s Singapore Noodles Meal Maker, before introducing it to more company brands in the future. This is the first time that Be My Eyes AI technology has been integrated with a food product, meaning that AI can be brought into the home environment.

Users will be connected to a human volunteer, or to a virtual AI chatbot that uses Chat GPT-4 capabilities to address user queries. The AQR codes used are developed by Zappar and work by adding a dot-dash pattern around one corner of the code, making them detectable from further away.

Generative technologies like AI offer the promise of improved connectivity and self-expression, with many of the world’s largest and most well known companies like Meta, Google and Apple all ensuring that the technology is an integral part of business practice. By making conversational AI, such as chatbots, more accessible, businesses can reach a wider and more diverse customer base.

“Unilever’s commitment to use new Zappar technology with Be My Eyes is pioneering a new era in product accessibility and disability convenience,” says Be My Eyes CEO Mike Buckley.

Easing enterprise AI anxieties 

Unilever is also working with Be My Eyes to train volunteers and provide specific Colman’s product information and data to the Chat GPT-4 AI bot. The company’s customer support team will also be integrated, allowing shoppers the option to be automatically connected to the Colman’s careline team for further support if needed.

Combining AI with the human workforce in this way is a very positive use case for the technology. Making the technology more accessible is a key goal for plenty of businesses, as the democratisation of AI ultimately empowers individuals to utilise it.

Additionally, allowing AI to collaborate with - rather than replace - human workforces, the business landscape could start to embrace the technology even further.

With this in mind, Unilever will be working with Be My Eyes and Zappar to collate user feedback to best optimise the technology. The company’s ambition is to continue partnering with accessibility experts and apps to support wider integration of AQR technology across different products, categories and countries. In addition, it aims to work with other businesses using this technology to share best practice.

Rachana Dongre, Senior Digital Engagement and Strategy Lead Nutrition & Ice Cream Business Group at Unilever, says: “We’ve accelerated digitising our packs to offer new opportunities for brand engagement and elevated shopping experience and now we’re also focusing on how we can also use digital experiences to make our products more accessible. 

“Zappar’s AQR codes means we can support blind and low vision shoppers to have equal access to information and integrating Be My Eyes into these codes offers a totally new way to make the full experience of our products more inclusive, from the shopping aisle right through to cooking at home.” 

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