VEEVER

Projecto Laura
21.02.2020
Grupo Dignidade
08.03.2020

Area of work:  People with disabilities

Website: https://veever.global/

Challenge overview

According to VEEVER’s founders, one of the problems faced in Brazil, is the lack of infrastructure in urban areas and means of transportation to serve the visually impaired population, which currently includes approximately 600 thousand blind people and 6 million with different degrees of vision loss. Structural and mobility issues are found in cities, with “sidewalks without tactile paving, dangerous intersections without sound alerts, collaborators without training for interaction with people with vision impairment and means of transport that do not provide accessibility”. Nevertheless, for the founders, the focus of attention involving this population is in terms of “the feeling of abandonment, neglect, and non-belonging” (Rosolen, 2019).

Information technology has promoted a change in the way individuals interact and relate to each other. Concurrently, it has become a tool used to devise solutions to social issues, since “new perspectives are glimpsed using technologies, which foster other technologies linked to a more social and humanized attitude” (Souza, 2013: 2).

In this context of innovation, technologies and social and humanized solutions, VEEVER emerges with the intent to help people with visual impairments to discover the world through technology, promoting accessibility and social inclusion.

Enterprise`s Establishment

The idea for the project came from the experience of João Pedro Novochadlo as a volunteer at the Instituto Paranaense de Cegos (Parana Institute for the Blind). Between 2014 and 2015, during his time volunteering in this institution, João identified the difficulty of people visually impaired in terms of urban mobility, particularly when commuting was a need. Due to visual limitations, many missed a bus, relied on help identifying the bus route, or simply were ignored.

At the end of 2015, Curitiba City Hall organized a competition between technology companies (Hackaton) seeking technological solutions for urban mobility. João participated in Hackaton and proposed his team to work with urban mobility for the visually impaired population. The idea was selected and awarded in the competition organized by the City Hall, and from that moment on gave rise to the social startup VEEVER.

The start of activities focused on the public sector, specifically the Curitiba City Hall. The business developed and became viable in September 2018. In 2019, it was active in the Public and Private Sectors. VEEVER currently has four partners: João Pedro, João Guilherme Mansur Baglioli, Leonardo Garcia Custódio, and Lohann Paterno Coutinho Ferreira. VEEVER is the first organization in Brazil to develop a device (Beacons) that assists in the mobility of visually impaired people.


Objectives and Activities 

VEEVER seeks to address the issue of mobility and interaction of visually impaired people in indoor and outdoor urban environments. Its goal is to ensure these individuals have more autonomy, independence, mobility, and especially to promote social inclusion more broadly through technology. To this end, it created an application for mobiles that works as a virtual voice assistant, bringing more accessibility, mobility, and especially inclusion to minimize the problems that visually impaired people have when moving and interacting in cities (Athanásio, 2019).

The app is available for mobile devices with iOS and Android operating systems and its operation includes:

  • audio description – information and guidance are passed to the user via voice assistant, in real time
  • off-line operation – data storage is performed on the user’s mobile device, not requiring internet connection
  • accessible interface – once the mobile device is pointed in one direction, the app informs the user of the mapped points in that environment.

In order for the functionalities of this technological solution to be executed, three technologies are used:

  • Beacons: micro-location devices that transmit – via Bluetooth signal – encoded information that, when sent to a device, is transformed into text, sounds, images, etc. By using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, these small battery powered devices have a long range, from 2 to 3 years. In addition, its size allows it to be easily installed without the need to use specific equipment, which in turn would make it difficult to use. Beacons can be installed in any environment and their signal is transferred to the mobile device with the required local information (Bem Paraná, 2019)
  • Smartphones: once the app is installed on mobile devices, users receive the signals emitted by the beacons and after decoding by the app; the information is audio transmitted
  • Cloud computing: it stores and manages information that is sent to users by the beacons. This way you can edit, update, or delete the data to be transmitted. This feature provides up-to-date information as well as groups of data that can be used to generate reports and decision-making metrics in the environment in which it is being applied.

The operation of the app requires that environments that want to make use of this technology have an infrastructure of beacons registered in the VEEVER system.

Challenges

The main challenge pointed by VEEVER involves the adhesion by public and private establishments and places. Initially, it is necessary to carry out an awareness work, reinforcing not the legal obligations of the spaces in terms of accessibility, but the fact that it allows the individual to attend a certain environment, having as a measure their “choice” and not because it is “accessible or not”. In this sense, the main effort of the business is to raise awareness and indicate benefits to adherence, and in many cases, in the face of financial investment, the return becomes intangible and inclusive (Novochadlo, 2019).

Impact

The impact of the business was registered in spontaneous media in 2019, with more than 100 stories addressing or mentioning it, including reports in Brazilian media, such as: Globo Rio de Janeiro, RPC, Band, and Istoé.

VEEVER and its founders are recognized nationally and internationally. João Pedro Novochadlo, one of the founders, has more than 10 technology awards (hackathons), is certified by Apple’s professional training programme, the Apple Developer Academy, has more than 50 technology projects on his curriculum (4 remain in force), and as a lecturer has given presentations at major events such as: Paiol Digital[1], Geek City[2], Whow! Festival de Inovação[3], Smart City Expo[4], Reatech[5], Connected Smart Cities & Mobility[6], among others. At the same time, VEEVER was considered one of the 40 best-positioned start-ups, out of 500 selected, in a competition held by MIT and Harvard Universities (Athanásio, 2019).

VEEVER, in addition to participating in national and international events, is receiving awards and recognition. In 2019, it was invited to participate in Rock in Rio (the largest music festival in the world, having been held in Brazil and with editions in several other countries), installing more than 80 devices in the city of Rock. To map the spaces, stages, food court, emergency exits, testing the app took 3 weeks. During the events, more than 90 users used the system. Recognition at the largest and most entertaining event in the world was a moment of visibility for VEEVER, which in addition to established partnerships, brought social inclusion and a sense of belonging and citizenship to individuals that “are invisible to the eyes of the many” (Novochadlo, 2019).


[1] Paiol Digital seeks engaging people connected to the entrepreneurial world, innovation and new technology, propitiating networking and fostering actions towards the development of the city, people and businesses. Website: http://www.valedopinhao.com.br/paiol-digital.

[2] Geek City is the largest pop culture and technology event in the South of the country and one of the most important events in the segment. Website: http://geekcity.com.br/sobre-o-geekcity/.

[3] Whow! Festival de Inovação is an Innovation festival held in Brazil. In 2019, the partnership with the 100 Open Startups resulted three intense days living in the energy of corporate innovation. Website: https://festival.whow.com.br/evento/.

[4] Smart City Expo aims to enable the participants to develop networking, sales, project presentation, and get great business opportunities. Website:      https://www.smartcityexpocuritiba.com/expo-2/.

[5] International Fair of Technology in Rehabilitation, Inclusion and Accessibility, considered the main fair in the sector in Latin America. Website: https://reatechbrasil.com.br/16/.

[6] Connected Smart Cities & Mobility brings together committed experts, entities, companies and governments that present the best practices for city development. Website: https://www.connectedsmartcities.com.br.

Lessons learnt

The main lesson learnt by the founders was that “you cannot think like a blind person, you need to thinkwith the blind person”. One difficulty is to put yourself in the position of this individual, as it is not possible to understand the environment and situations as he does. In this sense, solutions need to be thought together with the main actor involved. Thus, it became a rule for the business to “never do anything for them, without them. Since then, visually impaired collaborators were brought into the business. They test the app, its functionality, the places it is being installed, advice on the information that is passed on to the audio-descriptions, among other activities. This has created a large network of collaborators, from the development of the app to the evolution of the platform and the solution. Observed experience places the individual at the centre of the process and generates a sense of belonging and inclusion.

Finally, it is necessary to bring along VEEVER’s questioning in the face of these situations of social neglect: “We often see the problems and pretend that they are not ours, in face of which – who are the really blind ones, those who have a physical limitation or us, those who close our eyes to the problems of others” (Novochadlo, 2019).

Notes and remarks. Bibliography

1. The website of the Laura project: https://www.laura-br.com/about.html.

1. Athanásio, E. (2019). Startup brasileira cria App com tecnologia inédita para orientar pessoas com deficiência visual. Available at <      https://www.depropositocomunica.com/single-post/2019/06/05/Startup-brasileira-cria-App-com-tecnologia-in%C3%A9dita-para-orientar-pessoas-com-defici%C3%AAncia-visual>. Accessed 07 Dec 2019.

2. Bem Paraná (2019). Startup apresenta aplicativo que ajuda deficientes visuais a se localizar. Available at <https://www.bemparana.com.br/noticia/startup-apresenta-aplicativo-que-ajuda-deficientes-visuais-a-se-localizar#.XfK6H5NKhxg>. Accessed 07 Dec 2019.

3. Rosolen, D. (2019). A Veever é uma startup de mobilidade para pessoas com deficiência visual. Projeto Draft. Available at <https://www.projetodraft.com/a-veever-e-uma-startup-de-mobilidade-para-pessoas-com-deficiencia-visual/>. Accessed 07 Dec 2019.

4. Souza, E. (2013). A tecnologia e o empreendedorismo social: o uso do conhecimento como instrumento de combate à pobreza. Available at <http://www.altec2013.org/programme_pdf/730.pdf>. Accessed 07 Dec 2019.

5. The VEEVER’s website – https://veever.global/.

6. Credit to Carlos Olavo Quandt, Flavia Roberta Fernandes, Mari Regina Anastacio, Sara Regina Hokai and Ubiratã Tortato