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Foresight AR Beacons Give the Visually Impaired A Way to Navigate Independently

by Muriel Vega

25.5 million adults in the United States have reported vision loss, ranging from partial to total blindness. One of those individuals is David Furukawa, who was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease in college and gradually lost his sight. As he felt a loss his independence in tandem with vision loss, Furukawa shared his pain points with friends Tara Williams and Chris Webb.

The timing was right, as both technologists were looking for their next project. They decided to find a way to use technology to provide more access and independence to the blind and visually impaired. Aside from broad prompts from a smartphone or GPS, visually-impaired individuals often can’t easily locate the entrance of a business, read the menu at a restaurant, or even find the bathroom.

That’s how smart city beacon startup Foresight Augmented Reality (FAR) was born. “We’re providing a voice to the physical world for people who are blind and visually impaired,” says CEO Williams.

The company installs their connected beacons near entrances, exits, and inside brick-and-mortar businesses, “from government buildings to public parks, to your local shops and large shopping malls,” says Williams. An accompanying smartphone app allows users to look up locations nearby that are accessible and navigate to them using bluetooth technology.

The app provides vocal directions to the location users want to head to, as well as indoor navigation and any safety hazard warnings. The beacons, place in different spots around the business, work in sync with the app to provide detailed instructions.

For example, the app would provide a vocal countdown to get the user to the entrance of a business. Restaurants can add menus to the app, as braille menus are often not readily available.

In this way, beyond serving as an accessibility tool, FAR allows businesses to directly target this largely underserved group of potential customers.

They also have integrated a feature that lets users ask ‘Where am I right now?’ “which is a big problem for someone who’s completely blind if they get dropped sometimes where they’re not supposed to be,” Williams says.

FAR offers two versions of their product. FAR Business engages retails shops, restaurants, and city governments — current customers include the city of Decatur. There’s a one-time charge for the beacon installation, based on how many they need, and then a monthly subscription fee.

The second offering is a B2C product geared toward the visually-impaired individual: a portable beacon that they can place anywhere, from dinner tables to hotel rooms, to find their way back to locations. This product is a one-time purchase with no monthly fee.

Williams, along with co-founder Webb and CXO Furukawa, bootstrapped the Atlanta-based startup to this point, recently landing a spot in Venture Atlanta’s Startup Showcase. They’re in fundraising mode now with a partially-committed seed round and are looking for additional investors to join.

“This seed round is primarily about getting the product out there. We’ve gone through a long process of developing a product that we’ve been able to validate both with the users and the market. We’ve also created case studies for the different market segments that we’re going after,” says Williams.

“We want more boots on the ground, so we will be expanding our business development and sales teams to address all the opportunity that’s out there, including advocacy groups and municipalities.”

At this time, Foresight AR accessible locations are available in six states, plus Washington D.C. and two cities in England. Last September, Atlanta public school Burgess Peterson Elementary became the first FAR-accessible school.

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