Vision-impaired New Yorkers testing new smart cane

Gus Chalkias has been visually impaired for over 20 years. Getting around New York City hasn't been easy.

"All the construction going on anywhere and all the noise it's really hard to focus on environment," the Queens resident said. "So when I walk around I'm often riddled with anxiety."

Chalkias is among a group of New Yorkers getting the chance to try out new technology that could make navigating easier and safer for the blind and visually impaired. It's called WeWalk, the first-of-its-kind smart cane.

Among its functions is overhead obstacle detection; it will vibrate when the user is close to an object. Chalkias gave it a test run during an event at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Tuesday.

"I think it's really cool to be able to get some information ahead of time without the cane making contact with something," he said.

WeWalk was developed in Turkey through a partnership between the organization Young Guru Academy and the manufacturer Vestel.

"Our vision for the WeWalk is to make it the personal hub of the visually impaired," said Kursat Ceylan, WeWalk's co-founder.

In addition to obstacle detection, the cane pairs with the user's smartphone and syncs with apps like Google maps to give directions.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams' office purchased a number of the $395 WeWalk canes through a grant and will be testing them out through partner organizations Helen Keller Services for the Blind and the Lighthouse Guild, as well as with the MTA, which will test its functions in their various transit systems.

"We think if it does what it is proposed to do, it will make people more capable of walking around in a sighted world, more understanding of where they are, more independent," said Joe Bruno, the president and CEO of Helen Keller Services for the Blind.

The borough president's pilot program distributed eight WeWalk canes, which will be tested over the course of three months.

The smart cane goes on sale to the public next month.