Buttons or boards that automatically open the door (as shown above) can do a lot of things to make buildings more accessible, but they are not always a perfect solution. For wheelchair users with limited upper body movements, the buttons are difficult to hit. At other times, the buttons were poorly installed – too high, too low, too far from the door to be used, and the door closed too fast.
Portal Entryways is a startup that tries to make these existing buttons more useful. They built a device that could be carried on an existing access button, allowing the doors to automatically open when the wheelchair user approached (and importantly kept open).
Portal's products have two components: a Bluetooth low-power hardware that supports the existing door-opening system, and a companion application that runs on the wheelchair user's smartphone. The app searches for these Bluetooth low energy devices. When it finds one in a range, it issues a command to open the door, leaving it open until the user passes the door. The portal of the support portal is marked with a sticker to help the user know which gates will open when approaching.
The portal is part of the Winter 2019 course of Y Combinator, but it began as a student project for the BYU Innovation Program, which requires students to solve real-world problems. Co-founder Sam Lew told me that they initially started to study a completely unrelated concept (shipping logistics). They moved their focus when they met a schedule on the school campus that arranged for a friend to open the door or pressed an accessibility button that was not accessible.
It is still in its early stages, but their goal is to grow fast. They are close to installing 250 units and the goal is to sign a contract for approximately 1,250 units by the end of this month.
Currently, the founders of the company are installing themselves. Different doors use different buttons and motors. Some mechanisms are wired, while others are wireless. Link things up – at least for now – need some expertise. But co-founder Josh Horne told me that it is compatible with most popular existing mechanisms. "As long as it is not old," he said, "it should work."
The company's current focus is on locations with many public portals, such as universities or shopping centers. They are still trying to determine the cost of the future, but they estimate about $100-200 per year per door.