Social Care, Urban and Local NeedsWeWALK’s hardware and software products enable visually impaired people to navigate urban environments
- Founded in 2017
- Latest funding: Pre-seed, $750,000
- Revenue growth from 2020 to 2021: 110%
- Investors include Vestel Ventures; former executives from Unilever France, Goldman Sachs, and the UNICEF’s Turkish National Committee
- Offices in London and Istanbul
- FTEs: 11-50
- Key clients/partners: Microsoft, Moovit, Imperial College, the Royal National Institute of Blind People
- Co-founders: Sadık Ünlü, previously co-president of a nonprofit promoting youth technology; Gökhan Meriçliler, engineer by trade with experience in international business development; and Kürşat Ceylan, marketing and communications expert
Approximately 300 million people around the world experience moderate to severe vision impairment. A further 43 million people can be considered blind.
Devices that aid people with vision impairments are nothing new. The white cane, which is used by as many as eight percent of people with vision difficulties, has existed in some form for centuries, and in its current form since the early 1920s.
Entrepreneurs have recognised the opportunity for innovation in this space. A recent study of global patent findings by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) found that mobility was the largest and fastest growing subsector of assisted technology, with a particularly significant growth rate in patent filings for technologies the organisation considers ‘emerging’.
The co-founders of WeWALK have innovated on the ubiquitous white cane, with the ultimate goal of improving its users’ lives. The startup, based in the UK and Turkey, has developed a hardware device that attaches to a standard white cane and helps users navigate urban environments. This so-called ‘smart’ cane provides obstacle detection through ultrasonics (silent vibrations) and haptic feedback. Connecting the smart cane to WeWALK’s proprietary app allows for voice control and the ability to hear information about the user’s surroundings, keeping users safe and moving in the right direction.
plans for 2022
- Secure more funding to expand the team
- Increase accessibility by registering WeWALK with social security systems and insurance companies as a medical device, making it free for consumers
- Launch a project for indoor navigation in locations like airports and shopping malls
who should connect with this company
Municipalities looking to make their towns and cities more accessible to visually impaired people. Users who feel they could benefit from WeWALK’s SmartCane technology. Mobility-focused companies looking for partnerships. Healthcare organisations interested in procuring WeWALK’s technology for their clients.
Company in Action
WeWALK’s device calculates the best route for journeys and provides users with voice-guided, turn-by-turn walking navigation. WeWALK has API access to public transport data for 1,500 cities globally. When routes involve public transportation in these cities, it automatically checks timetables and ensures that users board and alight at the right stop. WeWALK can also notify the user of nearby landmarks on a journey (e.g., “Starbucks is 20 metres away at 2 o’clock”).
Local authorities can also provide points of interest for WeWALK to add to their map, and, via the app, users can submit accessibility issues that are then routed to the relevant local authority. WeWALK sends usage reports and heat maps to municipalities to show their visually impaired citizens’ mobility and highlight areas that need to be more accessible.
From a product perspective, WeWALK stands apart from its direct competitors because it develops both hardware and software. The software component connects the hardware component to a vast array of internet-based resources, while the hardware component integrates the tool more meaningfully into the daily lives of its users.
WeWALK boasts an impressive roster of investors and partners. Notably, they have partnered with Microsoft to use the smart cane’s built-in sensors to better understand how visually impaired people are moving. These ‘data-for-good’ partnerships could enable WeWALK to positively impact the visually imparied community beyond its direct users.
WeWALK is focused on the core aim of enabling independent movement for the visually impaired. On top of improving its users’ daily lives, the company notes an economic benefit to this independence. Oğulcan Başkan, WeWALK’s Global Expansion Manager, describes how “in the UK, only 1 in 10 blind people are employed, costing the UK £28.1 billion per year.”
Brian Kemler, a Product Manager at Facebook with experience in developing accessible technology, notes that it is challenging for assistive technology companies to achieve economies of scale. However, WeWALK is pursuing diverse public and private-sector procurement opportunities to help reach the scale required for long-term success.