Chino Wataru was involved in the development of the electronic control of electric vehicles and automatic driving systems at Honda. Following an accident that involved a close relative, he began developing Ashirase, a device to assist the visually impaired to walk. ASHIRASE

Technology Brings the Joy of Mobility to People With Disabilities in Japan

One element of an inclusive society is an environment in which people with visual impairments and those in wheelchairs can go out on their own without having to give anything up. Aiming to realize such a society, the barrier-free movement in Japan is gaining momentum, driven by passion and innovative ideas.

One of the principles of the United Nation's sustainable development goals (SDGs) is "leave no one behind." In Japan, where various efforts have been made to realize this principle, many products and services are being developed to help people with disabilities move around cities freely.

One of those is Ashirase, a navigation system for the visually impaired. Attached to the user's shoes and linked to a smartphone application, the small device instructs the user where to go via vibration and an electronic compass. A former engineer at Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Chino Wataru founded Ashirase Inc.—the first venture company to emerge from Honda—to develop the device following an accident that involved a close relative. He has also participated in demonstration tests using the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), an original Japanese satellite positioning system.

Ashirase, a navigation system for the visually impaired, is scheduled to be released at the end of 2022. The device is attached to the user’s shoe and linked to a smartphone app. Ashirase has been kept simple to keep its price low, but there are plans to develop an array of optional functions for the app, too. PHOTO CREDIT: (ASHIRASE) ASHIRASE
Ashirase uses location information from smartphones to determine users’ routes. The device, with a built-in motion sensor and an electronic compass, vibrates to guide the user to their destination. ASHIRASE
Kizuna Main Oda
Oda Yuriko, the developer of WheeLog!, is a wheelchair user herself. She has been expanding her activities by cooperating with Japan’s central and local governments' barrier-free initiatives based on the information gathered by WheeLog!. WheeLog!

Through numerous interviews with the visually impaired, Chino learned that they live their life by making full use of all of their senses other than sight. The aim of Ashirase is to support visually impaired people as they walk by providing navigation from their feet, without interfering with the use of their senses. By ensuring individuals could pay close attention to their surroundings, even visually impaired people could go outside safely on their own.

Chino said, "Walking is the basis of mobility. I hope to support the independence of the visually impaired by providing them with the freedom and safety of walking using technology." He is developing the product for commercial launch at the end of 2022, with an eye to eventually distributing it overseas. For now, Ashirase has been kept simple to keep its price low, but there are plans to develop an array of optional functions for the app, too.

In a similar vein, WheeLog! is an application based on the experience of its developer, Oda Yuriko, who was diagnosed with the intractable disease of distal myopathy in her early 20s. WheeLog! is the world's first app that uses maps to record and share the routes that users have taken with their wheelchairs, allowing others to see wheelchair-accessible routes at a glance, internationally, even in cities they have never visited before. The app is now available in 10 different languages. In addition, various types of barrier-free related information, such as the location of wheelchair-accessible restrooms, elevators and slopes, is collected through user posts to support wheelchair users in their active outings. WheeLog! also helps able-bodied people understand what sort of access and information is needed to navigate a city through a wheelchair user's perspective.

At the beginning of her wheelchair life, Oda thought it would no longer be possible to go out like she used to. However, when she later learned that there was a barrier-free beach near her home, she realized the importance of sharing this information broadly, with everyone, which gave her the idea for the map app. "The barrier-free environment is rapidly improving in Japan, making it more important for everyone to gather information and use it together," said Oda.

The WheeLog! workshop enables all participants to experience the city in a wheelchair. Not only does it provide an opportunity to become familiar with a barrier-free environment but it also helps able-bodied people understand what sort of access and information is needed through a wheelchair users’ perspective. WHEELOG!
WheeLog!, a wheel-chair navigation app, has become a tool for sharing barrier-free information with everyone—and has many able-bodied users, too.. The app is available in 10 different languages and can be used in cities outside of Japan, as well. WHEELOG!

Oda has come to realize that people with disabilities can help others by sharing information and having others use it through WheeLog!. She continues to take on the challenge of solving social issues using the power of information toward the realization of Goal 11 of the SDGs: sustainable cities and communities.

Leaving no one behind is a central tenet of the SDGs. Japanese innovators like Chino and Oda, and many others, are continuing to utilize their talents toward achieving a society in which everyone, no matter their disability, has mobility, access and equal opportunity.

This article is reproduced from KIZUNA. Check other articles in KIZUNA: