40 locally developed ‘smart canes’ devices were handed over to persons with visual impairment during the launch of the Smart White Cane (SWC) that took place at Masaka Resource Center for the Blind on Friday, November 26. The SWC resulted from a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through Rwanda Accelerator Lab, Beno Holdings, a Rwandan technology company, and Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB). It is expected to transform the lives of the visually impaired by increasing their mobility, independenceO, boosting their confidence and dignity as well as enabling them to expand their social and economic activities. The high-tech white cane is the first of its kind to be made in Rwanda. It uses ultrasonic ranging technology to detect obstacles in a distance of 1.2 meters and alert the user through vibrations and sound. It also has sensors that can help the user to differentiate day and night, the GPS functionality which allows to identify the geographic location of the user and facilitates tracking in case it is lost. Moreover. It contains reflectors that inform other road users that the cane user needs special assistance. According to Maxwell Gomera, UNDP representative in Rwanda, through the initiative, UNDP wanted to first test if technology can solve the challenge that persons with visual impairment face while navigating a highly visual world. “The Smart stick we launched today is still a pilot project. We now want to engage our partners to see if we can bring down the cost of producing the smart cane – in order to take it to scale,’ he said. He revealed that it costs them about $100 to produce one stick, but they are looking into bringing down the cost to at least $15 to make it more affordable for the 57,000 thousands of people who are visually impaired in Rwanda. To be able to supply all, he continued, it will cost us about $6 million which is not a lot when we consider how much it will transform the lives of the visually impaired persons. Innocent Muhizi, the CEO of Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA) said that the canes will be helpful to the visually impaired because they are made with technology which allows them to sense obstacles, time change (night and day) and provide the users with direction which differentiates them from the common white canes that don’t have sensibility feature. He said that they are working with other different stakeholders to mobilise funds to help them achieve the goal which is to reach every visually impaired person in Rwanda. Donathile Kanimba, the Executive Director of RUB said that the visually impaired people should keep being trained to use SWC, adding that public awareness is also needed so that people can be aware that a person with SWC needs special attention. During the testing phase of the project, members of RUB verified and previewed the SWC at key points in its development. Their insights focused on easy operability, practicality of use, being light to carry, and waterproof. According to kanimba, the union will keep training members on how to effectively use and take care of the SWC so that it can last for long. Jean Pierre Rukundo, Chief Executive Officer at Beno Holdings Ltd said that it took them three years to work on the project, adding through the pilot phase, they expect to get feedback from the SWC users that will help them to develop the final product to be put on market. Talking about the SWC tracking system, he said that it will be used in case a visually impaired person is lost and that RUB’s specific people in charge will only be able to monitor them for the sake of their privacy. Jean Marie Furaha, a member of RUB said that the digital cane will help him a lot, especially since it can vibrate and hopes that drivers will now stop for him when he is crossing a road. “The ordinary stick was good, but it had limitations. It didn’t have lights or vibration to alert other road users of your presence or warn you of obstacles on the road respectively,” he said. Sumaya Rebecca, a visually impaired resident of Masaka Sector, Kicukiro District said that she will no longer stay home in case she loses someone to guide her because the SWC will help her reach different places including her most desirable – church and market.