[Tech30] This startup is lighting up the lives of the visually impaired with an AI-powered device

Ahmedabad startup Torchit’s vision is to enable the lives of the 285 million visually impaired individuals across the world and the 70 million in India with assistive devices powered by ML and AI.

In India, more than 90 percent of people with disabilities (PwDs) come from low-income households, with a majority of them having little to no access to the necessary assistive devices. With minimal chances of finding gainful employment, they are bound to stay acutely dependent on their families and are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Ahmedabad-based startup Torchit is trying to address this primary requirement of the visually impaired by providing a simple and affordable device.

Their flagship product, Saarthi, is an assistive mobility device that acts like a handheld smart cane with smart detection capabilities and helps visually impaired individuals navigate obstacles in their physical environment. A brainchild of 24-year-old Hunny Bhagchandani, Saarthi is priced at Rs 2,500.

The team at Torchit. Hunny Bhagchandani - second from right.

Hunny is an Industrial Engineering graduate from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar. He was also a fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK and the MIT Media Lab.

Speaking with YourStory, Hunny said,

“The objective is to enable the visually impaired to find their way around with ease and without having to depend on another person. The device uses sonar technology.”

India is home to the world’s largest visually impaired population, comprising over 50 lakh people (according to the 2011 census). The country also has the largest population of the corneal blind in the world.

The startup’s mission is to provide the ‘power of independence’ to the differently-abled community by drawing on Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

How it works

When the device is switched on, the user is asked to select the desired range of detection - two feet for a closed room, four for a lobby-like area, and eight for any open areas or streets. When the device vibrates, it is a signal that there is an obstacle in front of the user, so s/he can course-correct by moving right or left, with the suggested direction being signalled by the device itself as well.

It also has an SOS button that enables audio and video calls to contacts around the world in case of an emergency.

Hunny says,

“Saarthi provides 99.7 percent accuracy in obstacle detection in all possible scenarios - indoors, outdoors, and open areas.”

Under a peer-to-peer revenue model, the startup’s products are priced at a 43 percent margin, which makes the venture self-sustainable. Torchit acquires customers by reaching out to various NGOs and social welfare organisations assisting the visually impaired. It also organises donation-based campaigns, through which some cash inflow is generated.

Other players in the same space specifically catering to the visually impaired are The Kahani Project, Mitra Jyothi, Raised Life Foundation (RLF), and Aipoly App.

India is home to the world’s largest visually impaired population, comprising over 50 lakh people (according to the 2011 census). The country also has the largest population of the corneal blind in the world.

The traction so far

Torchit has approached product distribution through three sales channels - CSR, state-sponsored projects, and individual purchases.

Under CSR initiatives, Torchit recently completed an order of 5,000 units and further intends to approach multinational companies and PSUs (Public sector undertakings). For FY20 till date, Hunny claims, 10,000 pre-orders for Saarthi have been received from numerous CSR groups.

Hunny says that the team has completed CSR projects with companies like ONGC, Wagh Bakri, Oil India, HDFC Gruh Finance, and MLM India, among others, and is in conversation with the governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for the distribution of the devices in those states as well.

Torchit is now looking to build new products to make education accessible for the visually impaired, with the team developing an on-device file management system for creating and publishing content.

“This will have the capability to connect and communicate from any portable device, thereby helping the visually impaired access and create content from anywhere in the world,” explains Hunny.

(Edited by Athirupa Geetha Manichandar)

YourStory’s Tech30 companies list is an annual selection of 30 carefully curated and disruptive tech-based startups that we believe will shape the new narrative for India and the world. To get a complete overview of the 2019 Tech30 companies list, download the Tech30 Report here.


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