R&D investment supports technology for the blind
Media Release 14th October, 2009
R&D investment supports technology for the blind breakthrough
Investment by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has helped Christchurch company Povidi develop cutting edge technology that gives blind people access to public arenas for the first time.
Povidi’s SoundPost Orientation System is an infrared based direction finding system that helps blind and visually impaired people to walk in a direct line to a given point. A base station placed in key positions, such as above doorways and at traffic crossings, gives out signals which are picked up by a hand controller carried by a blind person.
Povidi’s founder, Darryl Sherwood, is a former employee of Humanware, a leader in the field of technology products for the blind and visually impaired. When the company’s research and development (R&D) division moved from Christchurch to Canada in 2007, Mr Sherwood established Povidi to develop and commercialise his SoundPost idea.
In 2008, TechNZ, the business investment programme of the Foundation, provided investment of $35,000 to help Povidi overcome the technical challenges in developing the technology.
Mark Gallagher, the Foundation’s Director Sector Investments, Manufacturing and ICT, says it’s exciting to see Mr Sherwood’s knowledge and capability being directed into new areas of innovation.
“SoundPost neatly fills a technology gap between talking GPS systems that allow blind people to get to a public space and the white cane or guide dog that helps them avoid obstacles. It’s a smart idea and a world first, with strong export potential.”
Darryl Sherwood describes SoundPost as giving blind people the ability to “simply, affordably and effectively cross 30 metres of open space” and find specific facilities such as a door, an information counter or an elevator.
The hand controller is about the size and weight of a cellphone and is expected to work for about 100 hours before needing a battery change. When it detects a base station the device sends out an audible beep or vibrates and is also capable of providing recorded voice information that gives more details such as “escalator” or “entry”. Both the base unit and the controller will sell for under $250 each.
“Our goal was to design a product that blind people can afford to buy without having to get help from funding agencies while also giving those responsible for open space environments a low cost option for making them accessible,” says Mr Sherwood.
Mr Sherwood says TechNZ support with developing SoundPost was important. “As a start-up we did not have cash reserves for R&D – I was funding the business from my own resources – so the dollars made a big difference.
“The TechNZ investment also gave us credibility. We were looking for a private investor and having backing from TechNZ helped open doors so I could at least make a pitch.”
The Christchurch City Council is Povidi’s first client, having installed 60 SoundPost Base Stations throughout the city’s Cultural Precinct which includes the Arts Centre and the Cathedral and Square.
“It’s great to have an urban city installation that allows us to show to universities, airports, other councils and organisations responsible for public access to show them how the product can improve accessibility for the blind,” says Mr Sherwood.
Povidi already has a sales partner in the United States and expects keen global interest in its technology.