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On Tech & Vision With Dr. Cal Roberts

Jul 1, 2021

This podcast is about big ideas on how technology is making life better for people with vision loss.

Today’s big idea is how we can use touch and sound together to create spatial awareness. Just like learning to play the piano or another instrument, smart cane technology engages the both sound and touch to compensate for loss of vision. Kürşat Ceylan, the founder and CEO of WeWALK, shares how the WeWALK smart cane engages a number of senses to develop new autonomy for users, and how their technology is a jumping-off point for integrating other technologies.

The Big Takeaways:

  • People who are blind use their canes to detect obstacles in front of them to understand and visualize their surroundings. Tapping the cane allows them to hear the echo as well; hearing and touch go hand in hand.
  • WeWALK is a white cane enabled with smart technologies: it detects obstacles at the head level, pairs with a smartphone so both don’t need to be held, and has the flexibility to receive new features with the software updates.
  • This particular smart cane is a gateway for many different useful technologies that are adapted for accessibility for people who are vision impaired.
  • New technologies for people who are blind tap into and expand on our natural senses. WeWALK uses ultrasound for obstacle detection, which converts the data from the ultrasound waves into meaningful information for the user — through touch (vibration) and eventually sound (a beep).
  • The big vision for the future of WeWALK is to turn it into a personal hub assistant, including image recognition, voice assistant, and smart-stick integration. A more robust smart cane will allow for a fully autonomous journey for people who are visually impaired or blind.


  • “The research has shown that people who take piano lessons or instrumental lessons, their spatial skill is more established than the people who have never done it.” — Yu-Pin Hsu
  • “From when I started [playing piano] to now, I hear differently, and I think maybe I hear other things differently. I don’t know if my sound is better, or my brain is more attuned to listening and absorbing other sounds.”
    — Bill Graham
  • “It’s easy to rely on the sight, but as a visually impaired person, I can’t rely on my sight. It means I have room to rely on my other sense.” — Kürşat Ceylan
  • “WeWALK is powerful because of our partnerships. It gives the opportunity to integrate smart solutions into smart canes as well.” — Kürşat Ceylan

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Pertinent Links:

Guest Bios:

  • Kürşat Ceylan

Kürşat Ceylan was born in 1986. He was born blind. Kürşat studied psychological counseling at Boğaziçi University. During his university years, he was selected to attend the YGA Leadership Program as one of 50 participants out of 50,000 applicants. He volunteered on projects for the socioeconomic development of the visually impaired. After his graduation, he started to work at Roche, Istanbul. During this time, he was producing and hosting a Turkish award-winning radio show called, "Exploration of Emotions that are Suppressed by Sight", which aired every week on NTV Radio. In 2015, he resigned from Roche and started working at YGA as project leader, spearheading projects for the visually impaired. Kürşat won various global awards for his work in the field of visual impairment, dealing with indoor navigation, audio description in movie theatres, and the WeWALK Smart Cane. Currently, Kürşat Ceylan is the co-founder of WeWALK Technology INC, which strives to solve problems for people who are visually impaired through innovation.

  • Yu-Pin Hsu, EdD, OT, SCLV is  Manager, Vision Rehabilitation Projects for Lighthouse Guild and a Classically Trained Pianist

Host Bio:

  • Dr. Calvin W. Roberts

Calvin W. Roberts, MD, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Lighthouse Guild, the leading organization dedicated to addressing and preventing vision loss. Dr. Roberts has a unique blend of academic, clinical, business, and hands-on product development experience. Dr. Roberts is a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical College. He was formerly Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Eye Care, at Bausch Health Companies where he coordinated global development and research efforts across their vision care, pharmaceutical, and surgical business units. As a practicing ophthalmologist from 1982 to 2008, he performed more than 10,000 cataract surgeries as well as 5,000 refractive and other corneal surgeries. He is credited with developing surgical therapies, over-the-counter products for vision care, prescription ocular therapeutics, and innovative treatment regimens. He also holds patents on the wide-field specular microscope and has done extensive research on ophthalmic non-steroidals and postoperative cystoid macular edema. Dr. Roberts has co-founded a specialty pharmaceutical company and is a frequent industry lecturer and author. He currently serves as an Independent Director on multiple corporate boards and has served as a consultant to Allergan, Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis. A graduate of Princeton University and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, Dr. Roberts completed his internship and ophthalmology residency at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York. He also completed cornea fellowships at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston.