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Downtown Calgary was mostly empty on Tuesday.
The WeWalk team pose with their product sitting on a table in front of them. Kursat Ceyland, CEO sits on the extreme right.
Kürşat Ceylan said he and his team developed the idea in part due to his own experiences as someone without the ability to see
The memory of giving a speech at the United Nation convention for rights with disabilities should have been one for the books. However for speaker Kürşat Ceylan , who is blind, it comes with a few scars.
“I was in New York to give a speech at the United Nation’s convention on the rights of people with disabilities,” he said. “I was trying to go to my hotel and I was holding my white cane in one hand as well as pulling my luggage in the other and at the same time I was trying to check my GPS. So, as expected, I crashed into a pole.”
“I still have some scars from that incident,” he said, with a laugh. “And that’s fine, but I don’t need any new ones.”
The incident isn’t unusual for Ceylan, or anyone else in the blind community. Which is why he invented WeWalk — a “smart cane” specially designed to help navigate visually impaired users as well as warn them of nearby objects with the use of ultrasonic sensors. Users can pair the cane with their smart phone’s Bluetooth system, enabling them to use Google Maps with the help of an integrated Voice Assistant feature.
Smart canes in the past have only solved the problem of obstacle detection, according to Ceylan. “When we use our traditional canes in the streets and shake them left and right, we can detect obstacles at the ground but not at the head level, such as bus stops, trees etc,” explained Ceylan. “Putting in an obstacle detection feature solves that problem.”
With WeWalk, a user can also plan their route with the help of Google Maps, replete with features that make the application more accessible to those without sight. After pairing the cane with their smartphone, users can swipe left or right on the cane’s touchpad, to roll through a list of features — voice assistant, “where am I”, navigation, microphone speaker etc.
“You can save your destination location on the cane before you leave the house,” explained Ceylan. “And once you’re out walking, the cane will give you directions every 30 seconds or 30 minutes — you can adjust as you like.”
The voice assistant feature also provides extra information specifically targeted to those who rely on their auditory senses to navigate. For example, on reaching a destination, the feature will indicate whether the address is to the left or right of the user, something can be observed by those not visually disabled.
Just like any other smart device, the cane also includes a “find my iPhone” feature and sends an alert to the user if they forget to pick their phone up.
The social purpose of the cane weighs far more heavily than its function as a smart stick. “It’s a movement for independence and more mobility for visually impaired people,” he said. “We believe that with WeWalk, we can see more visually impaired people participating in a social, education and business life.”
The product sales seem to prove just that. In just three months since hitting the market, the company has sold canes to over 20 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Japan and the Unites States. “Two weeks ago, one of our users contacted us and told us that he had become depressed after going blind a few years ago,” said Ceylan. “But after using the device, he said he is no longer depressed and has been able to go out more — it gave me encouragement.”
Each cane sells at USD$500 — at first glance, a hefty amount but according to Ceylan. it’s actually one of the more affordable products in the assisted devices market, where smart canes can cost up to USD$800.
“We still have a long way to go,”said Ceylan. “But Google Maps provides information to sighted people. Now, in a more accessible way, visually impaired people can look at the city.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019