Voice-Enabled ‘Smart Cane’ Startup Scores $4M Investment From Grant/Crowdfunding Combo
British startup WeWalk has raised about $4 million in just under a month for its smart cane and voice assistant guide. WeWalk picked up nearly $2 million in a crowdfunding campaign almost immediately after landing a prestigious UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) grant for slightly more than $2 million.
The WeWalk cane embeds a touchpad, speaker, and sensory tools in the handle of a standard white cane. A connected smartphone app adds a voice assistant that users can activate with the touchpad. The voice assistant can answer questions about where the user is, nearby public transport spots, identify nearby buildings and landmarks, book an Uber, and provide real-time walking directions in a form better suited to those with limited or no vision. The cane checks for waist-high obstacles with ultrasonics, vibrating when an echo suggests a potential hazard nearby.
The UKRI grant was part of the Healthy Ageing Challenge, a joint initiative with Innovate UK, Imperial College London and the Royal National Institute of Blind. The company turned to the European equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube for its next funding effort, quickly reaching the amount it first aimed at before ultimately hitting 300% of the initial goal with support from more than 400 investors. That success isn’t too surprising since WeWalk was born from a 2018 crowdfunding campaign. The company has since successfully completed Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program, adding Azure AI for speech recognition and related features.
“WeWALK’s products are transforming the lives of visually impaired people across the world by dramatically improving their mobility. We want to scale our business to reach a wider audience and further develop our technology so it can be used by other groups in society such as elderly people who also face mobility-related challenges,” WeWalk co-founder and chief product officer Kürsat Ceylan said. “The significant additional investment from institutional investors and further financial support from more than 400 individual investors through our crowdfunding is contributing to these ambitions by helping us develop new partnerships in key markets, including the UK where we plan to grow our sales and R&D functions.”