December 14, 2023

For the first month of Israel’s war against Hamas, Shani Bibi spent every night at her parents’ apartment in Ramat Gan. 

Her father, Gavriel, and her mother, Miriam, are both deaf and would sleep through the air-raid siren.

She moved in to wake them if necessary, so they could reach a shelter within 90 seconds.

But as the entrepreneur behind CODA – a startup that uses AI to turn the spoken word into instant sign language – she was sure there must be a better solution.

And she found it. It’s a smartwatch. Downloading one of the siren apps such as the one offered by the Home Front Command, which most Israelis have on their smartphones, makes the watch vibrate and wake the user.

Bibi tested 20 makes and models of smartwatch and found only one – the Xiaomi 8 – that would readily connect with siren apps, and had a function to set the length and intensity of the vibration.

She has distributed the first batch of over 300 watches to the deaf community in Tel Aviv. 

Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, said, “Our job in these complex days is to take care of all the populations in the city. That’s why we purchased vibrating smart watches that warn of an alarm and missile fire for the deaf and hard of hearing residents of the city. Social resilience, accessibility and equality are more important these days than ever. We will continue to take care of everyone who needs us now.”

Shani Bibi, right, presenting a smartwatch to a deaf resident of Tel Aviv. Photo by Shlomi Yosef
Shani Bibi, right, presenting a smartwatch to a deaf resident of Tel Aviv. Photo by Shlomi Yosef

Bibi believes ultimately it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure all its citizens – deaf and hearing – receive warning of incoming rockets. She’s concerned that the need will become more acute if attacks from Lebanon, to the north of Israel, become more intense.

“If they can find a solution for me, as a hearing person, the Home Front Command, the government and the municipalities need to find a solution for deaf people who can’t hear the sirens. In an equal world there should be a solution for everyone.”

Can’t sleep at night

Bibi is CEO and cofounder of CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), a startup that translates speech into real-time sign language. 

CODA was among nine winners in MassChallenge Israel’s 2023 Early-Stage Accelerator Program.

She says there are almost 800,000 deaf or hearing-impaired people among Israel’s 9.3 million population, of whom around 50,000 are deaf or deaf-blind. Their need is greatest.

“I speak with deaf people every day who tell me they can’t sleep at night,” says Bibi. “The husband will stay awake while the wife is sleeping and then they’ll change shifts. She’ll stay awake while he sleeps. It’s crazy that people have to live like that.”

She’s been able to sleep in her own home again, now that her parents have a smartwatch to alert them to rockets. 

Shani Bibas explaining how a siren app installed on a smartwatch can vibrate and wake the user. Photo by Shlomi Yosef
Shani Bibas explaining how a siren app installed on a smartwatch can vibrate and wake the user. Photo by Shlomi Yosef

Her immediate target now is to raise 80,000 shekels ($20,700) to cover the cost of around 400 watches for Holon residents with hearing impairment. After that, she wants to expand to two other cities, Givat Shmuel in central Israel and Kiryat Ekron, south of Rehovot. 

Bibi has produced a video in sign language explaining how to connect the Xiaomi 8 smartwatch to the Home Front Command app.

“You need to have the option on your smartwatch to connect to different apps on your phone, and to set it up for how long and how strongly it will vibrate,” she says.

CODA does not yet have a website or social media presence. For information, email Shani Bibi (shanibibi25@gmail.com).

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