WeWalk, a British business making a “smart cane” for the visually handicapped, just announced that it has secured £2 million ($2.4 million) in venture capital from a number of high-profile institutional and angel investors, including Manchester City and German international midfielder lkay Gündoan.
WeWalk, a London-based startup founded this year, has created a GPS-enabled smart cane and accompanying smartphone app to aid the mobility-impaired in getting around. One of the “greatest ideas” of 2019, the WeWalk Smart Cane was featured in Time.
In addition to providing turn-by-turn guidance through an accompanying app, this high-tech cane (which retails for about $600) is capable of detecting and alerting the user to actual obstructions on the sidewalk via vibrations and noises. WeWalk announced a year ago that they would be working with Moovit, which is owned by Intel, to incorporate public transportation information for the area.
As of right now, WeWalk is planning to use its newly acquired capital to integrate computer vision capabilities into its product. These capabilities were created in collaboration with Imperial College London and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).
Facilitation via the Use of Images
While the specifics are still unclear, the end goal is to create a device that can read road signs, tell the user the bus’s number, or identify an object in the user’s path.
“We are seeking to maximise sensor efficiency and cost-effectiveness, integrating smartphone sensing where appropriate,” WeWalk R&D lead Jean Marc Feghali said. Additionally, we are researching the current state of the art to see what is technically feasible across a variety of form factors.
Further integrations with Microsoft’s Seeing AI app or Azure ML, as well as the company’s existing partnership with WeWalk as part of its AI for Accessibility program, could be fruitful for this endeavor, as suggested by Feghali.
The firm has begun working on the project, hiring around 30 employees to develop and test the required software and hardware.
The Royal National Institute for the Blind is helping us do user testing and make sure our designs are centred on people, Feghali added. The underlying sensing algorithms are being supported by Imperial College. We imagine a device that can be installed inconspicuously, giving its sensors a wide field of view without restricting the user’s normal movements. Then, we’ll employ a variety of auditory and tactile feedback techniques to provide the user the knowledge they need to move about safely.
The business hopes to have a product ready for sale by 2024, but in the meanwhile, it is utilising the WeWalk mobile app as a “design plate” to test camera and remote-human help functions. This will pave the path for the addition of further computer vision technologies in the future.
With its newly acquired £2 million, the firm has announced its intention to expand its help to other communities through the development of “adapted mobility aids,” such as walking sticks and frames for the elderly.
“We aim to extend our business to reach a bigger worldwide audience and enhance our technology to deliver better, more relevant information to visually impaired individuals, elderly people, and everyone who experiences mobility issues,” said Gökhan Meriçliler, co-founder and CEO of WeWalk.
Nesta Impact Investments, King’s Health Partners (KHP Ventures), and APY Ventures led the investment round for WeWalk, while public investors through Crowdcube and, of course, lkay Gündoan also contributed.
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