3 Years of Empowering Vision beyond Sight: A Glimpse into TorchIt’s Inspiring Journey
Imagine that you are surrounded by a thick fog. You cannot see anything, in any direction, not even your hand right in front of you. Now imagine that you need to navigate your way through this fog, with nothing but the sense of touch to guide you. You’ve no idea what kind of obstacles you might face, what lies ahead of you. Imagine living like this, in a world of virtual darkness, every single day!
About 39 million visually impaired people in this world lead a similar life 365 days a year, according to WHO census, 2012! Of these, 90% live in developing countries where there is little or no access to assistive aids. They face multitudes of problems in their day-to-day lives, including limitations to their freedom of movement, expression, etc. which in turn hinders them from being an active member of the society and the workforce. This ultimately hampers their self-confidence and self-esteem to a great extent, and they are often restricted from realising their dreams due to the following unproductivity and social exclusion.
TorchIt, an ISO certified social venture dedicated to serve people with visual impairment and other disabilities across the world, has been working towards empowering many such people since 2016. With simple and affordable yet highly effective assistive aids like ‘Saarthi’ and ‘Jyoti’, TorchIt has supported the blind to manoeuvre with ease and confidence, and stand on their own feet. It has empowered them to ‘walk with pride’, both literally and figuratively!
“It helps enhance mobility and self-dependence through Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning based smart technology that puts people first, hence making the lives of differently abled safer, easier, and better.”
The roots of TorchIt are embedded in the founder Hunny Bhagchandani’s internship with the social sector back in 2013-14, when he witnessed a person suffering from visual impairment meet with a terrible accident. The incident left a dent on the young and ambitious engineer’s heart and mind, and from that day on, he decided to commit his life for improving the lives of the differently abled.
The journey was far from easy! But TorchIt was able to inch forward with the support of like-minded organizations, institutes, governments, and veterans in the industry. Incubated and accelerated by IIC, PDPU and CIIE, IIMA, TorchIt is accredited by Blind People’s Association (India) and National Association for the Blind for its flagship product ‘Saarthi’. It is also supported by other institutions of repute like Dept. of Science & Technology, Government of India, Government of Gujarat, MIT Labs, World Bank, Facebook, Lockheed Martin, USAID, Tata Trust, FICCI, Nasscom Foundation, and Royal Academy of Engineering to name a few. It has received mentorship and guidance from experts in the field like Dr Bhushan Punani & Mr R.P. Soni from Blind Peoples Association, Mr Bhaskar Mehta (National Association for the Blind), Mr Abhinav Kapadia & Mr Anay Mashruwala from PDPU, and many more.
Saarthi: TorchIt’s first gift to the blind
“We are surrounded by all kinds of gadgets that make our lives a lot better, so why not have something similar for the visually challenged! They deserve more than the conventional cane.”
It was with this thought in mind that TorchIt released its first product, ‘Saarthi’ in 2017, after almost 18 iterations and feedback from more than 1,200 users across the world. It is a unique assistive mobility device that serves as a handheld object detection smart cane to help the visually impaired find their way around with ease and without depending on others. Highly accurate sensors are attached to the device in order to perceive obstacles and provide feedback to the users in the form of buzzing sounds & vibrations. A powerful battery and microcontroller are used to make it more efficient and long lasting. It is useful for different purposes like indoor and outdoor mobility.
Some of the most significant features of the device are:
- Ergonomic Design
- 7% accuracy in obstacle detection
- Portable & Pocket-friendly
- 3 Different Ranges [closed rooms (2 feet), lobbies (4 feet), and open areas (8 feet)]
- Battery life – 30 days
- Battery Back-up – 7 day
Three years since inception, TorchIt has touched the lives of more than 12,000 people across more than 5 countries namely India, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, & South Korea through 100+ partnerships worldwide, and 25+ distribution campaigns for ‘Saarthi’, many of them in partnership with CSR partners like ONGC, SRB, MLM India Ltd., Ardip Indigo, Oil India Ltd. (OIL), Wagh Bakri, Gruh Finance Ltd., and Syngenta.
‘Saarthi’ has helped reduce collision rate and injury, and increased the speed of walking among the beneficiaries due to enhanced obstacle detection accuracy.
“Walking around in the campus is now easier with ‘Saarthi’. The vibrations help me know about obstacles in advance and I can avoid collisions before-hand. This makes me less prone to injury and I can walk around freely in the campus without fear”, says Mrs. Heather from Incheon, South Korea.
Not only this, the product has also helped boost the confidence of many beneficiaries.
“It [Saarthi] has provided me a lot of confidence to move around freely with independence. Not being dependent on people all the time for small things is a great feeling. I now feel independent and happy”, says Mr Solemon from Nairobi, Kenya.
Moving beyond technological innovation involving product design and development, TorchIt is also serving as a platform for the visually challenged to grow in a socially inclusive and supportive environment. It is brewing a microsystem within the organization that tries to integrate the specially abled into the workforce, thereby giving them more power and freedom to pursue their choices in life.
“An organisation by the blind, for the blind, and of the blind, 60-70% of our assembly line for ‘Saarthi’ constitutes the blind people.”
TorchIt has won more than 40 national and international awards for its flagship product ‘Saarthi’.
Over the next 3 years, TorchIt envisions to empower 1 million+ differently abled individuals across the globe to lead more independent, meaningful, and connected lives through use of simplistic & effective yet affordable assistive devices enhancing mobility & accessibility, financial sustenance, and literacy via planned projects in India, Africa & Korea.
You can support TorchIt in its mission by contributing to its ‘Donate for a Cause’ program that allows individuals and organizations to sponsor assistive device(s) for the visually challenged, thereby enabling them to lead an empowered life: http://mytorchit.com/donate/