Antwerp-based app wants to 'make world bigger' for visually-impaired

Antwerp-based app wants to 'make world bigger' for visually-impaired
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Antwerp-based start-up AYES is gaining traction with its app that helps blind and visually-impaired people cross the street safely. With fresh money from investors, the small company hopes to reach millions of people.

Launched a year ago, AYES' iPhone app can 'see' when a pedestrian light is green and notifies the user with sounds and vibrations. The Antwerp start-up's app allows blind and visually impaired people to cross safely, even at intersections that do not have an audible signal. The app is also sued to help them get on the correct buses and trams.

De Tijd reported that the company has just raised €1 million in funding from investors. In recent months, the app has been picked up by associations of blind and visually impaired people in more and more countries, said co-founder Willem Van de Mierop.

"Last February, our app helped someone cross safely 5,000 times, now we are at 42,000 times a month. In total, the app was used 200,000 times. Never before has it mistaken a red light for a green one." This is important to gain the trust of users and potential customers.

An international forerunner

In Europe, the small company is aiming for recognition as an official tool, as well as getting reimbursed by governments. In Belgium, an application for this is pending with the Flemish Agency for Persons with Disabilities (VAPH). "We are also taking steps in Germany and the Netherlands," said Van de Mierop.

A different dynamic is at play in the US. A law to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities is putting a lot of pressure on local governments there to adapt intersections for the blind and visually impaired.

"New York wants to make all intersections accessible in 10 years, but with sound signals, the investment would be $1 billion. Our app offers a cheaper alternative, whereby use within a certain zone would be reimbursed by the city."

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Currently, the app is used in over 20 countries, often still in a test phase. AYES landed in Japan, among other countries, where according to Van de Mierop, the response has been enthusiastic.

Meanwhile, the company developed a feature to recognise buses and trams "to bring people with poor vision out of isolation by allowing them to take public transport themselves,' explained Van de Mierop. AYES is in talks with transport company De Lijn to see if it can collaborate around that feature.

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