ATU457 – WeWalk with Kürşat Ceylan and Cemre Balaban

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Find out more: https://wewalk.io/en/
Don’t Forget that March 4th is AT Awareness Day is March 4th, #ATAwarenessday
Canvas Story: http://bit.ly/3a2o7qg
Dr. Hand Research Story: http://bit.ly/2uto0ou
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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
Check out our web site: http://www.eastersealstech.com
Follow us on Twitter: @INDATAproject
Like us on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/INDATA————-Transcript Starts Here——————————-Cemre Balaban:
Hello, I’m Cemre and I’m working at WeWALK and I’m responsible for marketing and sales departments.

Kursat Ceylan:
Hello, my name is Kursat. I’m the cofounder of we WeWALK. This is your assistant technology update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your assistive technology update. Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 457 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on February 28th, 2020. On today’s show. We’re excited to learn all about the WeWALK cane. We also have some other fun stories and don’t forget that next week on March 4th is AT awareness day. So get out there and celebrate. Now, let’s go on ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Are you looking for more podcasts to listen to? Do you have questions about assistive technology? Are you really busy and only have a minute to listen to podcasts? Well, guess what? You’re in luck because we have a few other podcasts that you should really check out.

Josh Anderson:
First one is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ, hosted by Brian Norton and featuring myself and Belva Smith and a bunch of other guests. What we do is we sit around and take questions about assistive technology, either about accommodations, about different things that are out there or about different ways to use things. We get those questions from Twitter, online, on the phone, and in many other ways. We’re also trying to build a little bit of a community as sometimes, believe it or not, we don’t have all the answers. So we reach out to you to answer some of those questions and help us along. You can check that out anywhere that you get your podcasts and wherever you find this podcast.

Josh Anderson:
We also have Accessibility Minute. So Accessibility Minute is hosted by Laura Metcalf. And if you’ve never heard her voice, it is smooth as silk, and you should really listen to that podcast. She’s going to give you just a one minute blurb about some different kinds of assistive technology, kind of wet your whistle a little bit and just let you know some of the new things that are out there so that you can go out and find out a little bit more about them yourself. So again, check out our other shows, Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions and Accessibility Minute, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
I know that college accessibility can be a big challenge for students, especially when you come out of the world of special education. Maybe you have some extra support. Somebody who kind of follows you along in elementary, even middle and high school, and then suddenly you’re thrust into college and maybe all those supports aren’t there. There’s usually a disability services office, maybe some other supports in place, but it’s just so much bigger. There’s not that person to really follow you along.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I found a story over at The Bulletin and this is written by Lucas Lord. This is actually a college newspaper out of Emporia State, which is in Kansas, I do believe. It’s called University Adds Accessibility Plug-in to Canvas. So Canvas is an online learning environment. A lot of colleges use it. I know when I went to IU here in Indiana, we used it there as well. Students can submit their papers. There’s usually discussion boards, those kinds of things, but a big thing that happens is professors can upload information. So they can upload things for students to read. They can upload assignments for students. They can upload videos, their PowerPoints for tomorrow’s lecture, really anything that they want to get to the students, they would upload here into Canvas.

Josh Anderson:
So as you can imagine, when you have a classroom, especially with all people of different abilities, it’s hard to really know, am I making this accessible? So this talks about a plug-in for Canvas called Blackboard Ally. Blackboard ally, it says here, is designed to plug into Canvas and give faculty feedback indicators and gauges on the things that they upload. So basically say, “Is it very accessible, accessible, or somewhere there in the middle?” It’s kind of an accessibility checker built in there so that when the professor uploads their things for the students to study, maybe their syllabus or any other information, this Blackboard Ally will essentially pop right back up in their face and say, “Hey, great job. This is accessible.” Or, “You need to work on it because this, this, and this would not be accessible for a student.”

Josh Anderson:
This can really probably help streamline the process because usually what has to happen is, something’s uploaded, it’s found to be inaccessible, and then the student either has to approach the teacher or the disability services. They have to work together to make it accessible, and that can take a lot of time and really get some students behind. In this manner, it would make it to where it was just already done, and you don’t have that getting behind.

Josh Anderson:
Well, it also says here that this Blackboard Ally also, from the student’s side, has some accessibility things that it can do. What the student gets is called the alternative file format download. So basically when you would go and try to open up, let’s say the syllabus, it will automatically create up to seven different alternative formats for the student to use. So if whatever assistive technology you’re using works better with a PDF than say a word document, well, it can give you that, that different thing or HTML, all different kinds of stuff. So you can have all these alternative formats without the professor may be having to make all these alternative formats right away.

Josh Anderson:
But really, I think the important thing here is just that it gets that in the professor’s head, thinking about accessibility. “Am I making my stuff accessible?” And really just making sure that all students have the tools that they need, the professors take their time to put all this stuff together, to really get it out there for their students. It’s really great that this tool gives them that heads up to go ahead and make it accessible as well. Because once they make it accessible, then when they teach the class again or have it the next semester, when they upload that stuff, it should automatically be accessible again. So we’ll put a link to this over in our show notes, but hopefully this is something that a lot more colleges are employing. I can see how it can be a huge help to the professors, the students, the disability services office, and really everyone on campus.

Josh Anderson:
I found a story over in Nevada today, it’s titled ‘Transformation of Face Recognition, Technology and Representation for Faces Nets Grant. It talks about a grant being awarded to a Dr. Emily Hand. It says here, that Dr. Hand is going to use this grant for her research in machine learning and artificial intelligence to help visually-impaired individuals, and those on the autism spectrum basically improve their social interactions through facial recognition, expressions and emotions. Says the grant is funded by the National Science Foundation and her overall research goal is to develop software that will help visually-impaired individuals along with those on the autism spectrum to recognize faces, expressions and emotions. And the research is actually to produce techniques capable of recognizing faces in low quality imagery as seen in surveillance and human-computer interaction settings.

Josh Anderson:
In her research, what I found really interesting is that it’s actually teaching the computers to improve facial recognition using caricatures. We think of caricatures, those are usually the ones that kind of get drawn of you, and they’re very exaggerated. Big noses, huge smiles, usually tiny bodies, riding on a surfboard sort of things, but basically, they’re going to use these exaggerated images to highlight people’s characteristics. So the machine can kind of learn and be able to kind of pick these out a little bit easier.

Josh Anderson:
And it says she has been actually working for while to develop discrete wearable devices that would be able to recognize these different facial expressions, emotions, people, or really just be able to tell the difference between folks in what actually makes them different than other folks. It says the technology is also going to try to have the capability to identify individuals in low quality photos using those exaggerations. And of course, this could be used to help police and sketch artists in the future as well.

Josh Anderson:
So it could also have some other kind of social impact by maybe helping to solve crimes, catch criminals and do all those things. Said that Hand has a team of eight students who will be working with her, and it’s a three-year, $420,000 grant that’s titled Human Level, Face Verification Performance Using Distinctive Features. So very cool research, very neat. And it’s very great that Dr. Hand is trying to actually use this research and this technology to help individuals who are visually impaired and on the autism spectrum. We will put a link to that story right over in our show notes.

Josh Anderson:
So the white cane is probably one of the most recognizable accommodations in the world. Since its invention, it’s helped many blind and low vision individuals navigate their surroundings, but there’s been little improvements or changes made since this device came out. I mean, really, they invented the folding version and since then it stopped. Well, that is until now. Our guests today are Kursat and Cemre from WeWALK and they’re here to tell us all about the WeWALK cane and all that it can do. Welcome to the show.

Kursat Ceylan:
Thank you for hosting us.

Josh Anderson:
We’re very excited to talk about WeWALK. I’ve been excited about talking about it since I first heard about it, but before we talk about that, could you tell our listeners a little about yourselves?

Kursat Ceylan:
Yeah, sure. My name is Kursat, as I said at the beginning, and I’m the cofounder of WeWALK. I’m blind since birth and I studied school for the blind children in the primary school. And after that, I went to inclusive education at high school and I studied psychological counseling in university. Also while I was studying at university, I became an exchange student in USA as well, and I studied psychology there. After my graduation, I worked for Roche Pharmaceuticals company. In 2015, I resigned from my job and started to work on developing technologies for the visually-impaired people. Finally, today as a team, we are working on WeWALK technology and WeWALK is London-based company. However, we have offices in London, Istanbul and San Francisco as well. Today I am with Cemre. Maybe you can also introduce yourself, Cemre.

Cemre Balaban:
I’m Cemre. Actually, Kursat said a lot of things in the last part. I studied chemical engineering at university. And after graduation, I started to work at some startups. And then now I’m working at WeWALK. While university, I was also doing some [inaudible 00:11:39] things for the blind people. I think that’s all.

Josh Anderson:
Go ahead and tell our listeners. What is WeWALK?

Kursat Ceylan:
Briefly, WeWALK is a smart cane developed or visually-impaired people, which has three main features. The first one is, WeWALK can detect obstacles at the head level and alerts its user. This is an important feature because with our traditional white canes, we can detect the obstacles at the ground level. However, we cannot detect it at the head level such as tables, poles, trees, et cetera. And also as a second feature, WeWALK can pair with our smartphones. It means I can send comments to my smartphone without taking it out of my pockets through WeWALK’s touchpad or microphone. Also WeWALK has a speaker as well, for the voice interaction. This is really cool feature because as you know, technology, especially in navigation, technology, smart city solutions has taken off. However, all these technologies can be reachable over our smart phones.

Kursat Ceylan:
And please, imagine as if you are blind. You are walking in the street. You are holding your white cane at one hand. Also in order to get benefits of the technology, you have to use your smartphone at the same time. You have to hold your smartphone with your other hand. Your two hands are occupied. At the same time, you have to see your environment because we are gathering information by hearing. Also, you have to listen your smartphone to get the information. This is so destructive situation. That’s why we created WeWALK with the smartphone pairing feature.

Kursat Ceylan:
Right now, I can reach all the features directly from my WeWALK’s touchpad. It’s a torque feature. This is the feature that I like most. WeWALK can gain new features day-by-day with the software updates. And maybe I can have WeWALK today. I can buy one WeWALK walk. But two months later, when I woke up, I can have much more developed WeWALK with the new software updates. Also almost every month, we are releasing really important features for our users.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. So just talking about the first feature where you can alert the individual whenever there’s something a little bit higher, how does it alert you and let you know that, that you have an obstacle coming up?

Kursat Ceylan:
Yeah, WeWALK gives a vibration when it detects the obstacle and user can understand, “Hey, there’s something over there.”

Josh Anderson:
And I know that you just said that it’ll pair with a smartphone. What kind of information? Like what kind of apps and things work with it? What all kinds of information can it relay to the WeWALK from the phone?

Kursat Ceylan:
Right now. WeWALK has a navigation integration. It means visually-impaired people can manage their navigation process over their WeWALKs. Also, we have just released really cool features. The first one is public transportation. As you know, visually-impaired people, while they are waiting at the bus stop, they don’t know response is approaching the bus stop. Always, I have to ask someone else, “Hey, could you let me know when the bus arrive?” et cetera. But with this feature, WeWALK can give information about the bus timeline.

Kursat Ceylan:
Also, we have released one more new feature, which is called What Is Around Me. While you are walking in the streets, we can get information about the stores, restaurants, cafes, while we are passing by. Because normally, as a blind person, I don’t know which stores, which cafes, restaurants are around myself. But with this feature, WeWALK can give information also about these places of interests.

Josh Anderson:
What kind of integration do you have planned for the future? Because I know you said a few of those just came out. What are you working on to get WeWALK to do next?

Kursat Ceylan:
Maybe we should talk about our vision because in these days we are talking about the autonomous cars. Like autonomous cars, we want to create autonomous blind journey. It means that when a visually-impaired person wants to go somewhere from his house, he will just say, “Hey, take me to this place. Take me to closest shopping mall.” To WeWALK. First of all, WeWALK, we’ll give a navigation to bus stop. And then WeWALK will give information about the bus timeline. When he gets on the bus, WeWALK will give information about the stop he needs to get off. And also when he gets off, WeWALK will give information about the traffic lights. And after that, when he arrives at a shopping mall, WeWALK will give the indoor navigation. After that, WeWALK will give you information to his final destination.

Kursat Ceylan:
And it is going to be a fully autonomous blind journey. We are working on this dream. We are working on this vision with Imperial College. We are in collaboration with the Imperial College, as well as WeWALK was selected to the Microsoft AI for Good’s cohort. We are working on increasing the WeWALK AI capability with the Microsoft UK team.

Josh Anderson:
Wow. That’d be amazing. Like you said, you can just say where you want to go and it can walk you through everything in one device. That would be absolutely perfect. Where did the original idea for the WeWALK cane come from?

Kursat Ceylan:
In these days, we are talking about the WeWALK. However, as a team, we have implemented various technologies for the visually-impaired before the WeWALK. Cofounders of the WeWALK, Gokhan, Sadik and me, we met at the YGA social innovation program. YGA is a nongovernmental organization. It offers two years social innovation program to university students. Each year more than 50,000 university students apply for YGA social innovation program and all cofounders of the WeWALK, were selected to YGA social innovation program.

Kursat Ceylan:
When we got acceptance to the program, we started to work on technologies for the visually-impaired. For example, our first technology was an application for the visually-impaired people, where they can reach all sorts of intellectual contents, such as daily news columns, audio books, et cetera. And after that, we developed indoor navigation technology for visually impaired. And also after that, we developed audio description technology for movie theaters. As you know, when we go to the movie theater, there are many silent scenes of the movies. With this technology, visually impaired people can get audio description from their mobile phones, their smart phones without any physical equipment. After all these technologies, we started to work on WeWALK technology. And right now, we are on the market for several months.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. It sounds like it was a long time coming, but you really kind of helped with access and now you’re making something that’s full-on access. Like you said, being able to be autonomous. So if I were to get a WeWALK, is there training available for it?

Cemre Balaban:
Oh, we are doing some online. The most is worldwide but we have an office in London. Sometimes European customers go there and try WeWALK there.

Kursat Ceylan:
Also we have a training videos on YouTube and in our website, that when you buy a WeWALK, you can easily reach. There are training videos. And also if you still have questions, you can easily reach out-

Cemre Balaban:
Reach us.

Kursat Ceylan:
And we can arrange online training to you for yourself.

Josh Anderson:
Can you tell me a story about someone who’s used WeWALK and kind of how it’s affected them in their life?

Kursat Ceylan:
Oh yeah. This is the question that I like most, because we are developing such technologies to help the visually-impaired people to reach the people, to change their lives. That’s why I love to tell these stories. Just one month ago, a teacher wrote to us from Ireland and he was saying that, “I am not a blind since birth. I became blind a few years ago. And I was kind of depressed. With your WeWALK, with your [inaudible 00:21:38] technology, I again started to go out and be socialized. And that’s why I am so thank you to you.” And we got such emails from our users. Even in Brazil, even in Japan, in UK. So far, we reached more than 20 different countries. That’s why we are so happy.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, very good. And you brought up a good point there. I know a lot of folks that I’ve worked with that maybe lost their sight of that a little later in life. Usually there is some kind of depression because you can’t go out and do a lot of the things that you wanted to, or maybe you have to rely on someone else. So just having that autonomy and being able to do it, I can see how that can really change their life and kind of help with that transition. How much does WeWALK cost?

Kursat Ceylan:
WeWALK is available on our website and the price is $500.

Josh Anderson:
For that price, what all comes with it, does it come with the white cane or do I have to attach it to my old white cane?

Kursat Ceylan:
Yes. It comes with the white cane. Also, we have an iOS and Android application. Everyone can download it and they can start using WeWALK without needing an extra thing.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, very good. Tell me a little bit about the iOS and the Android application.

Kursat Ceylan:
All these features that I told you, such as the What is Around Me feature, navigation feature, et cetera, is available on our application and everyone can download our application and check it out. Also, if you have the WeWALK device, you can manage our application over the WeWALK’s touchpad and without taking it out of your pocket, your smartphone. That’s why we can easily say that our application is available for everyone. You don’t need to have the WeWALK smart cane. However, if you have the WeWALK smart cane, this experience is getting better and better.

Josh Anderson:
So if our listeners want to find out more about WeWALK or purchase one for themselves, what’s the best place for them to do that?

Cemre Balaban:
From our website. They can read and make purchases from our website.

Kursat Ceylan:
www.wewalk.io. Also, we will be at CSUN in March.

Cemre Balaban:
Just sometimes, we explain to people WeWALK and its features. They always ask to try it. So that’s it. With news, we’ll be at CSUN in March. So if anyone wants to use WeWALK and meet us, we can meet them there, and they can see and try the WeWALK.

Kursat Ceylan:
By the way, Josh, do you know the CSUN? Or maybe we can tell about the CSUN. It’s the annual big event for the visually-impaired people in California. And maybe you can give information about this.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. So CSUN is a huge assistive technology conference out in California, and it’s called CSUN because it’s California State University Northridge Center on Disabilities are the ones who put it on. And I believe that it’s about the 35th year for CSUN. What are the dates for CSUN this year?

Kursat Ceylan:
9th March until 13th March.

Josh Anderson:
Perfect. That’d be a great place to go and be able to check it out and be able to meet you guys and just see it in practice and how it can definitely help because talking about it’s one thing, but really getting your hands on it can really change what people’s perspective is. Especially once you can really see and experience everything that it can do. Well, we want to thank you both for coming on the show today and telling us all about WeWALK. We will put a link to the website over into our show notes so folks can go check it out and maybe sometime near in the future as more and more features come out and you get more close to that full-on being able to be autonomous, we’ll have you back on just to talk about those, but thank you both so much.

Cemre Balaban:
Yeah. Thank you.

Kursat Ceylan:
Thank you so much for hosting us, and we really would like to be at your show again in near future.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter, @INDATAproject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com.

Josh Anderson:
Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the accessibility channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA project. This has been your assistive technology update on Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.