Finalist category: Tech4Good Diversity Award
Finalist, Tech4Good Diversity Award, 2019
Arikovani UK Limited’s primary focus is to develop innovative technologies for visually impaired people to increase their inclusion in economic and social life and promote diversity in society.
The team are now developing the WeWALK Smart Cane – which detects obstacles that are above the chest level and prevent users from bumping into them. With its smartphone integration, it checks navigation directions via WeWALK’s touchpad, removing the need of holding the smartphone on hand. Visually impaired people use their white canes and their favorite navigation/guidance applications at the same time, but WeWALK serves those people with a new safer interface combining the features of white cane and smartphone use with integrations such as Google Maps, and BlindSquare. Other features include being able to integrate with third party apps and services such as Uber, Citymapper and Amazon Alexa.
There are 253 million visually impaired people in the world, 36 million of which are blind (World Health Organization). 89% of visually impaired live with middle or low income. The number of the visually impaired in UK is 2 million (RNIB), and it is expected to double by 2050. Among the visually impaired living in UK, only 27% are employed. In the light of these numbers, WeWALK aims to reduce disability based inequalities with UNDP’s goal #10 and increase visually impaired people’s participation in economic and social life. For this purpose, visually impaired people need to have independence and mobility, and have access to the latest technologies. WeWALK represents the adoption and use of the white cane, which is the basic element of independent movement; thus, leads its users to increase use of technology with increased mobility.
Despite the rapidly improving technology, the white cane has stayed the same for almost a century. The team wanted to integrate the latest technology into the white cane, and enhance the experience of the visually impaired peron’s life with it. Many of the projects in this field are done by people who are not visually impaired and have no idea about the problems faced in daily life. When developing WeWALK, Arikovani UK worked hard to create a diverse team to develop this project with the visually impaired, not for the visually impaired. They started with an important insight acquired from previous projects – that visually impaired people are satisfied of using white cane and they do not want to give up it’s flexibility to provide tactile information. For this reason, instead of developing other alternatives they chose to improve the white cane, a tool already in use.
WeWALK could potentially benefit 253 million visually impaired people in the world and two million in the UK. It empowers the visually impaired to gain mobility skills to become independent, and participate in economic and social life. According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the cost of sight loss and blindness is around £15billion. WeWALK could aid the government in reducing that cost by helping visually impaired people build confidence and independence, remove bariers, encourage them to find jobs and contribute to the country’s economy.
The team are constantly updating WeWALK and its software to turn it into a better product for the visually impaired. Using its third party app integration feature, they vision WeWALK to be a personal hub that brings together apps from different categories in an accessible way. They would like the community to identify their own problems / needs, and go on to solve those through using WeWALK’s app integrations.With this, they plan to extend WeWALK worldwide.