Sensor-driven SmartCane for Blind/Deafblind Wins hackABILITY Finale

MISSISSAUGA, ON – On December 7, 2017, the hackABILITY Finale came to a close at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). hackABILITY is an extended hackathon that pushed teams to use technology to help those suffering with disabilities. The hackathon was born out of the Driving Dreams conference which took place in July at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

The main attraction at Driving Dreams was a car created by hackABILITY organizing partner, Arrow Electronics that could be used by quadriplegic driver, Sam Schmidt. The former Indy Car driver suffered a crash in 2000 and has only recently regained the ability to drive thanks to technology that allows him to steer using head movements. He currently works with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports which houses Canadian Indy Car driver, James Hinchcliffe.

From, the Driving Dreams event, the Research Innovation Commercialization Centre (Altitude Accelerator), ICUBE at UTM and Arrow Electronics, partnered to create competition that would allow contestants to take advantage of recent advances in technology to make the world more accessible regardless of physical or sensory limitations.

Starting in October, teams had two months to build their projects. With support from sponsors such as Arrow Electronics, Microsoft Canada, and others, the five finalists were able to build working prototypes for the finale, where event attendees got to play around with their products and learn more.

The pitching teams included AIDex, BlueScout, iC Color, SmartCane and Sonacles, which made for tight competition and gave the judges a very difficult decision to make. The judges on the night included Barry Munro (Canadian Spinal Research Organization), Robert Buren (, Laura Dottori-Attanassio (CIBC) and Andrew Yoshioka (Sanbonki Inc.). After careful deliberation, they chose the SmartCane team as the winners of hackABILITY.

SmartCane uses sensor technology to help the blind and deafblind avoid obstacles between ground and head level. It also uses GPS integration to help in navigation. Riya Karumanchi, the leader of the SmartCane team, is a Grade 9 student who has been working on this product for a year.

After winning hackABILITY, she said, ”The SmartCane team has had an incredible experience at the hackABILITY Hackathon, as we were able to learn so much, develop our skills, expand our network and make immense progress in development of the product. We are honoured and humbled to win the competition and look forward to working with the various sponsors to get the cane into the market.”

Karumanchi also won the annual Hacking Health Hackathon in Hamilton earlier this year, from which she earned valuable partnerships in developing her SmartCane product. In addition to that support, she will also receive up to $35,000 worth of services from hackABILITY’s contributing sponsors. This includes:

  • $1,000 cash prize from ICUBE as well as access to ICUBE’s Open program, ($5,000 value)
  • Altitude Accelerator’s Startup Bootcamp, workshops, seminars and pitch panels ($5,000 value)
  • Industrial design, engineering, prototyping and manufacturing services from Inertia Engineering ($10,000 value)
  • UrTech’s UrStart Hardware Accelerator ($3,000 value)
  • Coworking, meeting room space and more from Spacebar Coworking ($5,000 value)
  • Access to Microsoft BizSpark and Microsoft Azure cloud services ($9,000 value)

Greg Dashwood, Product Lead for Internet of Things & Advanced Analytics at Microsoft Canada, said, “Being part of the hackability finale was an amazing experience. To see the innovation, passion and incredible work developed by the teams was inspiring. It clear that application of technology in creative ways can have massive impact to the quality of life for those with disabilities, and I was so impressed by the talent, energy and enthusiasm on display from all of the teams involved.”

Robert Buren, founder of and one of the event’s esteemed judges, also said, “The hackABILITY event was a great reminder of the talent and passion that Canadian innovators/entrepreneurs have to improve the quality of life for those of us living with a disability. It’s also great to see corporations getting behind and supporting initiatives like this.”

With many personal stories behind these products, it’s no surprise that the other finalists are also still pursuing their ideas. We wish all the teams involved the best of luck on their journeys.


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