With over 253 million visually impaired people in the world, a new perspective on inclusion and accessibility was long overdue. As well as the daily challenge of just getting around, almost 89% of visually impaired people live on a low income and only one in three are employed, meaning challenges around inclusion into society and struggling to make ends meet are typical consequences of being unable to see.
The team behind WeWALK is part of an ecosystem of innovations developed in pursuit of an accessible world. They began their journey in 2011 by inventing technologies for the visually impaired, such as indoor navigation technology and audio descriptions in cinemas. Their latest creation, the WeWALK Smart Cane, aims to significantly increase visually impaired people’s mobility, thus allowing them full and equal participation in social and professional activities.
WeWALK is a sleek and ergonomic device that attaches on top of any white cane. With an inbuilt ultrasonic sensor for upper-body obstacle detection, plus a touchpad, microphone and speaker, the cane pairs with a dedicated mobile application to allow for seamless indoor and outdoor navigation. Amazon Alexa voice commands enable hands-free control of the user’s mobile device. The open platform envisioned by the team means that other researchers and organisations can tap into the cane’s potential, turning it into a continuously evolving and tailored experience for each of its users. For instance, integration with ridesharing applications such as Uber and Lyft is envisioned.
WeWALK aims to reduce disability-based inequalities and will continue to drive innovation in this area, drawing attention to the accessibility tools needed by the visually impaired community. WeWALK provides users with added safety with its obstacle detection and enhances their use of technology with the ability to connect and integrate with smartphones. Ultimately, WeWALK will empower visually impaired people with the mobility and confidence needed to go wherever they want to go.
WeWALK was established by a team who completed the Young Guru Academy (YGA), a social innovation programme established in Turkey. YGA is an international organization which is partnering with institutions such as Harvard, Berkeley and MIT. The team of eight devote themselves to solving the challenges of being visually impaired. They were selected by Microsoft for Start-ups and Social Tech Trust as one of the 11 companies to receive support from their AI for Good Programme. They are now working with Microsoft AI to provide additional features and improve the current functionality. Competence, a social conscience, trust and courage are all values the team possess.
In 2018, the WeWALK smart cane won the gold medal in the Health & Wellness category of the Edison Awards, which is a leader in globally recognising, honouring and fostering innovation and innovators to create a positive impact in the world. In 2019, the team were asked to deliver a pitch at CES in Las Vegas, and Forbes and CNN International has described WeWALK as one of the most innovative technologies of our time. Social Tech Trust is developing a framework to further understand the social impact of WeWALK.
The WeWALK Movement is a fundraising project initiated by YGA, which has received support from Vestel (the largest manufacturing facility in Europe) in order to develop and mass-produce WeWALK devices. Social Tech Trust is advising WeWALK on company growth, as well as providing access to a network of other social tech organisations.
According to Gokhan Mericliler, Co-founder of WeWALK: “WeWALK now has a supportive ecosystem, courage, a great team and a strong foundation for the future.”
Case study published in September 2019