Researchers have invented a novel device that harnesses the advancements of technology to effectively guide the blind and the visually impaired as they walk through streets or at home with their canes.
A company called WeWalk has developed a device that can be attached to the conventional cane, which helps them navigate through life. In particular, WeWalk’s tool takes advantage of smart technology, some of which we already use every day.
The WeWalk cane consists of an electronic handle with a regular ‘analog’ white cane that is inserted into the bottom. It uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect any obstacles above chest level and warns the user via a vibrating handle.
The device does all of that as it is equipped with built-in speakers, a voice assistant, Google, and sensors that send vibrations to warn about obstacles above chest level. The cane can be paired with a smartphone’s Bluetooth system for easy control. Since it is also integrated with Voice Assistant and Google Maps software, it can use built-in speakers to inform the user of nearby stores and infrastructural details that they may not be able to scope with their canes manually.
The company sees that through this device, it will enable people with visual impairments to become more independent and navigate more effectively even when they are alone.
Interestingly, WeWalk’s CEO and co-founder, and who also engineered the device are visually impaired himself. He is Kursat Ceylan, co-founder of Young Guru Academy (YGA), the Turkish non-profit behind WeWALK. Being blind himself, Ceylan knows firsthand what challenges people like him face and decided to put his knowledge into inventing something that could significantly improve people’s life.
Ceylan told an outlet that he helped to develop the cane out of a desire to use modern technology as a tool for the visually impaired.
“In these days, we are talking about flying cars, but these people have been using just a plain stick. As a blind person, when I am at the Metro station, I don’t know which is my exit… I don’t know which bus is approaching… which stores are around me. That kind of information can be provided with the WeWalk,” Ceylan said.
Consumers can outfit the WeWalk device into any other cane, which would help guide them through the smart technology in its system.
The technology used to create the weWALK cane is also built around an open platform, which means that third-parties could eventually add their smartphone-based functions, depending on their preference and needs.
Developers even hope to pair it with ridesharing apps and transportation services to further improve its navigational abilities.
The smart cane is available on the company’s website and runs for around $500.
From a broader perspective, WeWalk is the latest addition to the rising number of inventions geared toward making the lives of people with disabilities easier through the advent of technology. It’s also another device that makes use of Google’s smart or AI-based technology. Similarly, Microsoft too, has opened its doors for individuals and organizations seeking to aid people with disabilities.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that they are giving seven companies grants and access to their advanced Microsoft Azure AI program to help develop their businesses and technology to bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities.
It is part of Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility project which launched in 2018 and is a $25 million project that would last for five years. The program determines which organizations are eligible for a grant.
Specifically, Microsoft chooses projects that aim to develop on the company’s Cognitive Services and Machine Learning technology for accessible and intelligent AI solutions in its three main areas of focus: Employment, Daily Life, and Communication and Connection.
Last year, a total of nine organizations and projects were given grants including Zyrobotics, iTherapy’s InnerVoice, Present Pal, Equadex’s Helpicto, Abilisense, Timlogo, the University of Iowa, the Indian Institute of Science, and the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation.
This year, the chosen organizations and companies range from addressing how technology can help people with disabilities join the workforce to smart prosthetics.