Robert Yearsley is the CEO & Co-Founder of Aria Research, a company that leverages novel machine vision spatial audio and artificial intelligence to deliver a sense of vision via sound to people who are blind and have low vision.
Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?
I’ve been working in the technology innovation space in Australia and Silicon Valley for the last 25 years. I co-founded ARIA, which stands for Augmented Reality in Audio in 2019. My co-founder Mark Harrison and I built the company from the ground up, co-inventing the technology and building the company.
The tech leverages novel machine vision spatial audio and artificial intelligence to deliver a sense of vision via sound to people who are blind and have low vision. Our world-first device, which looks like a pair of sunglasses, translates the world that is normally seen into a world that can be heard through a real-time virtual soundscape delivered through binaural speakers located in the arms of the glasses. Our aim is to meet the unmet needs of 338 million people living with vision disability.
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
I get up early around 5:30 am and enjoy the first hour of the day hanging out with my 4-year-old son. We’re both bears waking from hibernation, so we take things pretty slow. I am usually in the office by 7am with a smoked salmon bagel and coffee in hand.
That fuels me through product development meetings, testing and working in the lab, and reading research and technical papers so I’m up to date on the fundamentals of technologies. The rest of the day is focused on working on the business and with our engineers. We’re based in Haymarket, so I aim to take a 20 minute walk every day if I can, usually through Sydney’s Chinese Gardens to Darling Harbor.
I catch the ferry home to Manly around 4pm, scoop up my son and head straight to the beach for a rock ramble or a swim, the highlight of the day. With a team spread across the globe, I usually have a couple of calls and meetings in the evening too.
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach to maintaining it?
To be honest, I think it’s fiction! If you’re lucky you enjoy what you do and manage to keep the time you have with family siloed, that what works for me. My mantra in life is “fewer things better”. There is joy from the work I do and a big part of that is working with an amazing team, and our mission feeds the soul.
The other aspect is that I’m so fortunate to have a truly wonderful family. The highlight of my day is seeing my son and taking him down to the beach for a run on the sand and exploring through the rocks, and sharing time together with my wife and best friend.
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
The company has grown and the workload has increased, I’m asking more of my body, and with it I need to be more disciplined to maintain good dietary and sleep habits. I recently cut out rice which I used to eat a lot of for lunch, which very quickly gets processed to sugars, so that’s gone now.
I have also become better at saying no to some things and prioritising where my time is best spent. Work will expand to the time you allow it, often with diminishing returns. You need to keep it in check or it can take over.
We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?
I really like Simon Sinek’s videos. One of his core messages is that the most successful companies begin with a purpose (the “why”) rather than with a product (the “what”) and this is something we are really focused on at ARIA.
90% of blind people are dependent on other people for moving around outside of their homes and the majority bear major challenges with core elements of living and maintaining a household independently. Why Is this the case? Why do we need to accept that this is good enough? This kind of framing led us to powerful insights and solutions.
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Enjoy what you’re doing and if you don’t, change it. If you’re a high-performing person there will be an imbalance between work and life that you will need to constantly keep in check. It’s really important to judiciously protect the time you have with those you love.