The visually impaired typically rely on white canes to safely navigate their day-to-day movements. aCAT brings you the Startup Story of Wangi Lai PLT and its game-changing BAWA cane, which aims to achieve what the traditional canes could only dream of.
White canes have always been the go-to mobility aids for the visually impaired but the rising trend of the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought forth a successor on the horizon.
Wangi Lai PLT has created BAWA, a smart cane that is capable of connecting to mobile phones and wearable devices.
This month’s Startup Story introduces you to BAWA, a one-of-a-kind white cane that harnesses big data analytics to provide users with incredible insights of their immediate environment.
Technology that improves accessibility
A nifty upgrade to existing white canes, BAWA is brilliantly engineered to alert users of above-knee-level obstacles, small objects, and sudden drops/steps.
Since users have little to no vision, BAWA emits sounds to alert users of low battery, incorrect sensor orientation, and other events.
Another amazing feature of this smart cane is its connective ability to mobile phones and wearable devices.
With the BAWA mobile app and band app, the visually impaired are directed by voice navigation to avoid static obstacles. They can even book a ride (via Uber) and send out SOS signals if they are hurt or lost.
BAWA is improving accessibility for the visually impaired, which helps keep them safe, lets them travel conveniently, and do things much more easily.
Love leads the way
“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?”
― Steve Krug
The startup behind the ingenious BAWA cane is a social tech enterprise, known as Wangi Lai PLT.
Founders, Daniel and Stella Vong, drew inspiration for BAWA from their beloved grandmother, who had lost her vision due to glaucoma and cataracts.
From that personal experience, the duo got the idea to use modern technology to empower their grandmother and others like her so that they could live more freely and independently.
They decided on enhancing traditional white canes because they saw the need for vast improvement to its long-standing design.
Furthermore, guide dogs were impractical as they were 1) expensive and 2) posed acceptance issues in Malaysia.
So, they realized the best way to go was to come up with solutions for common issues faced by users of white canes.
Daniel and Stella have been working tirelessly to make their invention available to as many visually impaired people as possible because they believe accessibility is everyone’s basic human right.
Brains and hearts unite
Wangi Lai PLT runs on passion and creativity. The startup could not have achieved its current level of success without either of those things.
If you ever meet the team, you’ll find it is full of energetic, driven people who take their mission of accessibility for the visually impaired very seriously.
But love for what you do is never enough, which is why BAWA’s team members are also highly qualified in their respective fields.
Every member has contributed their unique skills and talents to ensure the BAWA cane looks good, feels comfortable, and works the way it’s supposed to.
The team is expertly led by founders, Daniel and Stella, a pair of siblings who combined forces to form Wangi Lai PLT and bring the BAWA cane to life.
BAWA’s awesome tech can be traced back to Daniel Vong, who graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees, one in Engineering (Robotics and Mechatronics), and the other in Computer Science.
Daniel proves time and again that he is adept at applying what he’s learned from books and lessons into real-life scenarios, as demonstrated by his many wins at global tech competitions and hackathons.
With a Bachelor’s degree in Business (Accounting and Finance) and an Excellence Award for Best Accounting Graduates, clearly business is Stella Vong’s forte.
Her academic background and participation in her alma mater’s leadership programs have readied her for her role as the co-founder of a startup.
It seems like Wangi Lai PLT has all the ingredients they need to achieve long-term success but the destination is still far off and the road, bumpy.
Mistakes made them stronger
Looking back on their startup journey thus far, Stella notes that in the past, they had neglected the marketing and publicity aspects of their business.
For a long time, the team was so laser-focused on developing the tech behind the BAWA cane that they put aside any thoughts of actually promoting their creation.
Eventually, they learned that marketing their product was as crucial as perfecting its technology and design.
Their way of thinking changed once they asked themselves this eye-opening question: How is the public going to know about us and our revolutionary tech if we do not put ourselves out there more often?
That moment spurred the BAWA team to work on their marketing strategies, which resulted in them attending numerous roadshows throughout Sarawak.
Since then, the startup has presented the BAWA cane to crowds of thousands at multiple events. Wangi Lai PLT is becoming more proactive in making BAWA known to potential customers, investors, and collaborators.
What’s Next for Wangi Lai PLT
Established about one year ago, Wangi Lai PLT is currently in the research and development phase of their product journey.
Things are looking good for the startup as it has already created and released four alpha prototypes. The countries they are being actively used in are Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, and of course, Malaysia.
So far, data collected from their alpha prototype testing has helped tremendously in ensuring the product works as intended.
The effort involved is exhausting at times as the team continuously goes back to the drawing board.
But they’d rather rethink a flawed design repeatedly than produce a half-baked product that could risk their users’ safety.
There has been a growing interest in BAWA as the website gains tens of thousands of unique page views weekly.
People are definitely buzzing with excitement over the BAWA cane and its life-changing potential.
The overwhelming positive response has resulted in 500 pre-orders worldwide already!
Moving forward, the team will have their hands full as they strive to bring BAWA to completion.
Aspirations and goals
Daniel and Stella would never have embarked on the startup journey had it not been for their late grandmother.
Her struggle to cope with vision loss exposed the siblings to what the visually impaired frequently go through.
Awareness of the terrible accessibility for the visually impaired moved them to find a solution to bridge that gap.
From the start, Daniel and Stella have had this fire in their bellies to improve accessibility. They want to change things because society often treats disabled rights as an afterthought.
The founders hope to see BAWA impact many lives in a huge way. It is their mission to help the visually impaired do more of what we, the non-disabled, take for granted.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs
1. “No challenge is too big or small.”
In her own experience, Stella knows that dealing with challenges is only a matter of one’s perspective.
She and her team tackle whatever obstacles stand in their way and they do so fearlessly.
Tell yourself you can deal with anything and you’ll find that you can. Sometimes you need to have faith in your own abilities.
2. “Grow from your mistakes.”
You need to analyse your business to see where you can improve and then, actually follow through on that.
Once the BAWA team realised they were dismissing their product’s marketing, they quickly rectified that through intense participation at roadshows.
Knowing your mistakes is important, but growing from them is even more so.
As the saying goes, if you don’t learn from your past, you will certainly repeat it.
3. “Take inspiration from your own experiences.”
Is the following predicament one you are familiar with?
You long to start your own business but ugh, you lack inspiration! Your brain is at its wits’ end trying to come up with good ideas.
The heartbreaking situation that Daniel and Stella found themselves thrust in was what pushed them to make the BAWA cane. It forced them to do things they never thought they would do.
Your real life problems can nudge you to where you should be so look out for those “Aha!” moments.
- Accessibility is everyone’s right.
- A team should comprise skilled as well as passionate members.
- Capable leaders ensure things go smoothly.
- Don’t underestimate the value of effective marketing.
- Continuously refine and rework your product design.
- No challenge is impossible to solve.
- Put in the work to really improve where you’re lacking.
- Let your experiences lead you to business ideas.
“Our goal is to see as many smiles on our users’ faces.”
— Stella Vong, co-founder of Wangi Lai PLT
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