WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme

The smart cane company aims to release a new voice assistant and develop a human behaviour model on the mobility of people who are blind or have low vision

woman walking in the park
WeWALK
The smart-cane start-up, WeWALK, has joined Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme to accelerate its capabilities by developing a new voice assistant and human behaviour model.

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme aims to harness AI to support the more than one million people around the world with disabilities, by accelerating the development of accessible AI solutions.

The WeWALK smart cane has been designed for people who are blind or have low vision and is already in use across 37 markets. Through the programme, the company aims to create a new ‘smart’ voice assistant for its device, and also build a human behaviour model to measure the mobility of people with low vision, or who are blind.

The company is set to release its new voice assistant for its smart cane device later this year. Built on natural usage patterns, the tool aims to improve user confidence while moving. The company is working to make the solution ‘smart’ to the point where it will be able to categorise and deliver the user’s commands in a variety of different environments.

WeWALK will also work on a human behaviour model, which it aims to launch in 2021.

The human behaviour model will be implemented and expanded through daily use of the WeWALK device, with its built-in inertial measurement unit sensors (such as a gyroscope, accelerometer and compass), and data collected from a connected smartphone.

Speaking to OT, the WeWALK team confirmed that, with the behaviour model, users will be able to observe their progress and improvements in confidence through the app, based on their vision, location and cane usage.

Kürşat Ceylan, WeWALK’s co-founder and CPO, highlighted that the behaviour modelling project could have a far-reaching impact: “As a blind person from birth, I know that it is very important to get the right habits of using a cane from a young age. It is amazing to see how WeWALK can enhance this aspect of our lives with high tech, making training and orientation more effective. I believe that the smart cane will be a symbol for the fully independent journey of people who are blind or have low vision.”

The human behaviour model will be a significant development, the company said, as it suggests there are “no accurate models” for how a person who is blind moves, or how their mobility evolves, particularly after receiving orientation and mobility training. Developing a behaviour model could help to increase the efficacy of training sessions for mobility trainers by helping to track the data of trainees, WeWALK suggested.

In the longer-term, WeWALK suggested that the model could provide an overview of mobility of the visually impaired which could have wider applications for areas such as building developments, indoor and outdoor navigation and creating mobility training strategies.

Commenting on the entry into the Microsoft programme, Jean Marc Feghali, research and development lead at WeWALK, said: “Being a part of the Microsoft family truly excites us, bringing us closer to mobility trainers, researchers, and the global visually impaired community.”

The company are “rigorously collecting mobility data with novel experimentation,” Mr Feghali explained, adding, “By working on these two objectives, WeWALK can set the standard for visually impaired mobility for both the individual user and the organisations that support them.”

Earlier this year, the start-up raised £600,000 from investors across Europe to support the acceleration of technological developments to the smart cane device.