Blind CEO develops smart cane that can use Google Maps to navigate surroundings

A smart cane is enabling visually impaired people to make use of modern navigation apps. Credit: WeWALK.

Who needs to ask for directions nowadays, when you have realtime information about all nearby shops, bus stops, or grocery stores right at your fingertips? It’s so easy to plan a trip using just about any online maps service. You just plug a destination and you get all the steps you need to make and how long this would all take.

Visually impaired people, however, have extremely limited access to this kind of facility and, for the most part, have to rely on navigating their surroundings the same way they have for ages — using a walking cane.

Turkish engineers at the Young Guru Academy (YGA) and WeWALK want to change all that. The startup has developed a smart cane that uses ultrasonic sensors which relay warnings of nearby obstacles through vibrations in the handle.

The smart cane can be integrated with third-party apps via a smartphone. Credit: WeWALK.

The cane can be paired via Bluetooth with the WeWALK app on a smartphone to offer navigation instructions. Touchpad controls integrated into the cane allows the wearer to control their smartphone without having to take it out of their pockets, thus leaving one hand free for other tasks like carrying groceries.

Built-in speakers also enable the cane to inform users of nearby sites of interest, such as stores or bus stops that they might not be aware of. The cane comes with native integration for Voice Assistant and Google Maps.

This kind of technology could finally enable visually impaired people to have a taste of the GPS-based navigation apps that we’ve all come to take for granted. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 39 million people worldwide who are blind and a quarter billion who are visually impaired.

WeWALK was founded by Kursat Ceylan, who has been blind since birth.

“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 … [or] which stores are around me. That kind of information can be provided with the WeWalk,” he told CNN.

This is clearly some very exciting technology with real potential to improve people’s lives. The biggest challenge lies in pushing this product to the mass market — and the cost is a big obstacle, for the moment. The smart cane is currently priced at $500, something that most people who would benefit from it cannot afford. As the product is scaled, the developers hope that their smart cane will reach more people.

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