Imagine a world where you don’t need a keycard to get to where you want to go. Instead, it’s just a simple and quick tap of your fingers away. Today, that world is a reality, with the Sesame Ring, a ring that replaces your everyday keycard. With wearable technology gaining momentum and popularity, this is an exciting time for Edward Tiong and Olivia Seow, the founders of Ring Theory, and the creative pair behind the Sesame Ring.
It was personal experience that got Edward (Graduate, Engineering Systems and Design (ESD)) and Olivia (Graduate, Engineering Product Development (EPD)) thinking about a more effective and elegant solution to keycards. Olivia shared that “we came up with the idea after experiencing first hand for ourselves how troublesome it was to fumble in our bag for our card, even more so when holding things in our hands.” That inspired the pair to start exploring and tinkering with various concepts and materials.
It took many months to get from the original inspiration for the product to the first batch of rings, ready to be shipped out to customers. Edward shared how they were able to build and test prototypes rapidly using the university’s 3D printers. They would start building a new prototype using the 3D printer in the morning before classes start. Once the physical ring structure has been successfully printed, they would embed the necessary RFID hardware into the ring and test it out— by walking around SUTD and trying all the doors! They would refine the design late into the night, before starting the process again in the morning.
“The moment it beeped… that was the best moment ever.” – Olivia & Edward
Edward and Olivia shared that the biggest challenge was getting the prototype to work consistently. The hardware had to be miniaturised in order to fit within a smaller volume in the ring, compared to a typical keycard. This resulted in an overall weaker signal, which meant that many doors could not detect the ring successfully. Edward and Olivia refined the product over the months. It was one evening when it all clicked— when each tap resulted in a beep, consistently and without fail.
Edward and Olivia secured a major first milestone in Boston, Massachusetts. During their time in Boston, as part of the Global Leaders Programme, they got in touch and pitched their product directly to the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority). The management loved the idea and today, thousands of commuters use the Sesame Ring as they ride the subway.
“When school ends, it’s like the day has just started for us.” shared Edward, due to the 12-hour time difference between Singapore and Boston. They had to communicate frequently with the team in Boston as they prepared the product to be shipped. “We slept for only about 4 hours a day for a whole semester. It was crazy but very much worth it.”
“Having people in school whom we don’t know come up to us to validate our efforts- the feeling is out of the world. Being able to unite students and being able to convey a sense of pride and identity in this manner really spurred us on.” – Olivia
On working together with your significant other, Edward and Olivia shared they had to tease out and figure what works best between the two of them— as a couple and as cofounders of a tech startup. “Although pursuing your passions with someone close is what one would dream for, there are issues that need to be ironed out along the way, as there is no definitive set of roles for us,” they shared.
“It’s a collective effect that has made this possible,” shared Edward and Olivia. They are very grateful to their friends, professors and mentors, and the SUTD management for their feedback, advice and support through the months and years. They shared, “They are the ‘unsung heroes’ who have helped us to get through the toughest part of the journey.”
“We can’t imagine pulling through what we did in any other university. The relationship shared between the faculties and us students is an experience we wouldn’t trade for any other.” – Edward