App guides blind people safely through the streets
Ettlingen-based start-up develops “Routago”, a digital assistance system for visually impaired people
by our employee Monika John
Blind and visually impaired people have a hard time finding their way around the city. They can now be helped with a new type of navigation system. “We are revolutionizing the mobility of blind and visually impaired people with a digital assistance system on their smartphone,” explain Gerd Güldenpfennig and Stefan Siebert, the founders and managing directors of the young Routago GmbH in Ettlingen. “If you close your eyes and put yourself in the position of a blind person looking for a safe route to the train station, for example, you immediately understand the challenges faced by around 285 million blind and visually impaired people worldwide. Common navigation solutions treat pedestrians like slow cars. Pedestrian bridges and underpasses, parks, crosswalks and smaller paths are not taken into account.”
“That changes with the Routago assistance system,” Siebert emphasizes. A key feature of navigation, he says, is determining an optimized route for the user. For a blind person, he says, it may be safer to take a detour than to cross a street directly. A wheelchair user will get a route that contains few inclines, avoids stairs and includes ramps. Routago also provides information about objects in the environment and can plot routes. “All of this is continuously improved through machine learning,” Siebert said.
Routago emerged from an interdisciplinary research project that started in 2016 and was successfully completed in 2019. The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and was awarded first place at the “Galileo Masters Baden-Württemberg” in 2018.
According to Stefan Siebert, the participation of blind people in the entire development process was essential to its success. For example, central concepts such as speech output or operation had been developed at the Study Center for the Visually Impaired at KIT, he said. Already in the first phase of the project, the participating company iXpoint decided to develop a product from the results, to launch it on the market and to spin off this area from the company. To this end, Güldenpfennig and Siebert founded Routago GmbH. At the end of January, they went to market with Routago Assist. The app has since been available in the App Store. The annual subscription costs 59.99 euros.
“We want to have reached 300,000 customers worldwide by three years,” says Siebert, formulating a company goal. The path to this goal leads through associations and clubs, mobility trainers, schools and trade fairs. First in the region, then nationwide. The founders expect a lot from their presence in the digital media. It is well known that blind and visually impaired people communicate intensively via these channels. In order to finance market entry and growth, the young company welcomes investors according to the business angels concept.
The vision of the young company from Ettlingen is the mobility of people in the digitalized city of the future. According to the company’s founders, this opens up large and highly topical mobility markets such as urban mobility, smart cities, transportation and logistics, as well as opportunities to support medical research.