'Smart cane' brings tech advances to visually impaired

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BARCELONA, June 29 (Reuters) - White sticks used by the visually impaired to help them get about have had a hi-tech makeover, with a "smart cane" that doesn't just detect obstacles but can also give users information about the shops and restaurants they are passing.

The device is the brain-child of Kursat Ceylan, a Turkish inventor who was born blind and had an accident three years ago that left him scarred as he struggled to navigate while pulling luggage and checking GPS directions through his smartphone.

He helped to set up WeWALK, a tech company that has created an electronic handle for the top of a cane. It uses ultrasound to detect obstacles, can be paired with a smartphone and gives voice feedback to help keep the user safe and informed.

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"We are providing an opportunity to visually impaired people to be a part of the social life," Ceylan, aged 35, told Reuters at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the company is pitching for the title of "best impact startup."

He said the foldable cane, priced at $599, was already being used by thousands of visually impaired people in 59 countries, and WeWALK was working with companies including Microsoft (MSFT.O) to add more features.

"As you know, we are thinking about fully autonomous vehicles ... WeWALK is a device to provide a fully autonomous blind journey to visually impaired people," Ceylan said.

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Reporting by Horaci Garcia Writing by Mark Potter Editing by Keith Weir

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