NDRC-based tech start-up Point the Way talk about their advanced GPS navigation system for the visually impaired, which works on smartphones and compliments the white cane.
What do you do?
Point the Way is an advanced GPS navigation system for the visually impaired on a smartphone. We were part of the National Digital Research Centre’s (NDRC) inaugural entrepreneurial programme and we began developing our product in collaboration with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) in January 2010. We recently won further investment in an event hosted by the NDRC. The event was judged by a panel of successful entrepreneurs, which adds credibility to what we are trying to achieve with this company.
What have you got to offer a potential client?
Our clients are visually impaired people. Point the Way can offer a visually impaired person a greater level of independence by providing an intuitive routing system on their smartphone. This means that rather than the traditional method of having a sighted person guide a visually impaired person through a new route several times before it is memorised, Point the Way can provide that initial guidance. We should add that Point the Way is not a replacement for the white cane, which is still state-of-the-art for obstacle avoidance. It is designed to compliment the white cane.
Tell me something exciting about your company?
Point the Way has the potential to provide a level of independence to a visually impaired person that they do not have now. To quote Stuart Lawlor who is the Rehabilitation Centre Manager at NCBI: “We see the system that you are proposing being hugely beneficial to people with sight loss who need to travel on their own and get to their destination safely, quickly and independently”.
On a separate note, an exciting offshoot of a recent meeting with O2 was that O2 sponsored Point the Way to place two Android smartphones onboard the Team DAFT yacht taking part in the Round Ireland Yacht Race.
The connection here is that Mark Pollock, who is blind himself, is one of the two-man crew on the yacht and Mark has been very supportive of us in the past. The smartphones are constantly relaying data from the boat to a central repository but we are also gathering valuable data on the strength of O2’s network off the Irish coast.
What makes you so different from your competitors?
Unlike existing GPS navigation systems for the visually impaired, Point the Way orientates the user before setting off. It uses GPS and the in-built compass in a smartphone to point the user in the correct initial direction. Once en-route the user is notified, through vibrations, when a change of direction is required. Once notified they simply point their phone to determine which way to proceed, receiving another vibration when pointed in the correct direction.
Point the Way uses open-source maps data, which translates to free, continuously updated global maps for Point the Way users. And lastly, as Point the Way works on a smartphone the user has full use of their web browser, calendar, contacts and of course, their phone, at all times.
What is your monetization strategy?
Our current strategy is to seek a partnership with a larger organisation that has a strong commitment to disability and social awareness. We need to make the acquisition of our technology as painless as possible for our customers, who are blind and low vision. This can be achieved by bundling the product onto specific handsets and by using the existing sales channels of these larger organisations.
With this in mind we have already had very constructive meetings with both telecoms companies and handset manufacturers.
Where do you see your company in a year’s time?
With the proof of concept complete, we are currently organising focus groups with NCBI to help develop the user interface. The next step is a large-scale pilot-trial of the device and again NCBI have agreed to fully support such a trial.
We are currently in discussions with both telecoms companies and handset manufactures to support the pilot-trial in terms of providing handsets and other expertise.
Within the next year we see Point the Way gaining its first visually impaired customers and we also have plans to build a social network tailored to the visually impaired community to compliment the Point the Way system.
What about 5 year’s time?
In 5 year’s time we see the visually impaired community adopting our technology and embracing it. We see the potential to have a significant share of the market for visually impaired GPS systems as we believe our product has a distinct competitive advantage over our competitors. The technology is intuitive and discreet and has the potential to provide a level of independence to a visually impaired person that they do not have now.
We are currently developing on Android smartphones so we see no barriers from a technology perspective as Android is continuing to rapidly increase its share of the smartphone market.
Why should someone invest in you?
We have shown enormous progress over a very short period of time. At the end of 2009 Point the Way was merely an idea. However since January 2010 we have twice been successful in securing investment, firstly with our acceptance onto the Launch Pad entrepreneurial programme and secondly by winning second prize in a recent investor event hosted by NDRC.
We have a proof of concept of the technology, an excellent partner in the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), a strong company identity and an excellent board of advisors.
Between the two directors of the company we have a combined 20 years of academic and commercial experience in IT.