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Financial technology trends for 2019

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Financial technology trends for 2019 1

By Cliff Moyce, Chairman of Advisory Board, DataArt

Cliff Moyce, Chairman of Advisory Board, DataArt

Cliff Moyce, Chairman of Advisory Board, DataArt

Blockchain has no real use cases in financial services and capital markets. All ICO’s are frauds. All cryptocurrencies are operated by eastern European criminals. Artificial Intelligence is hype used to break up the monotony of Brexit on 24-hour news channels. Cloud is expensive and cannot be used for customer data. And so on, and so on. All wrong of course, but there is no shortage of articles of this ilk on the internet; articles that can unfortunately inform the views of the ‘experts’ resident around your water-cooler at work. That is how such myths can become accepted truths that impact negatively on progress in your company.

Executive boards need to know the truth. IT doesn’t just belong in the IT department anymore.  Technology is the business, and the business is technology. Not just in Silicon Valley but in any bank or exchange that you care to mention. Asset managers are really data and analytics managers. Insurance companies always have been. That is why a technology predictions article such as this must not fall into spurious hyperbole and polemics if it is to be of any use to readers who are responsible for safe governance, effective operations, and revenue growth in financial institutions. What readers need is a report on where real technology trends are going right now, so that they can look ahead to new ways to solve problems, realise opportunities, and make customers happy.

New technologies allow companies to solve problems; create and deliver new products and services; do processing cheaper, faster and better; and, enhance planning, reporting and control.  Based on what we saw in 2018, 2019 will be marked by a strong emphasis on fully digitalising customer-facing services; rapid adoption of Open Banking and Fintech; improved productivity through increased and improved process automation, and use of consumption-based IT services and ‘ubiquitous infrastructure’ models; and, meeting regulatory demands – and enhancing the whole business –  by employing best in class data management methodologies, tools and techniques. Technologies that will be important in achieving these objectives include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (machine learning; deep learning; neural networks; pattern recognition; and, natural language processing)
  • Blockchain (for cryptocurrencies, and for distributed ledgers)
  • Ubiquitous Infrastructure (e.g. Cloud, and other consumption-based IT services)
  • Big Data

Individually and combined, these technologies can revolutionise delivery of products and services; processing; data management; reporting; and, planning, decision makingand control (compliance). By doing so, they will revolutionise the customer experience as well as the operation and governance of financial institutions. That may sound like the hyperbole that this article promised to avoid, but it is not a statement made lightly. Just one of the technologies (Blockchain) applied to one of the highest frequency processes in the industry (settlements) can remove 99% of effort and cost and eliminate the need for another expensive process (reconciliations). More importantly, it is being done right now so is a real trend not a fanciful prediction. Instances will only grow. These technologies applied correctly and comprehensively will mean significant increases in customer satisfaction, compliance and revenues. Whether this will happen or not for you depends on the degree to which your company engages and invests in new ways of working.

Automation

One technology trend that has been over-arching the industry since the 1970’s is automation. It is hard to believe that everything that can be automated has not yet been automated in financial services. However, we cannot ignore all of the manual actions, decision points and paper documents that remain, let alone the high error rates, need for manual reconciliations, rates of fraud, and unnecessary costs that come with manual working. Even when processes have been automated previously, they are often clunky and disjointed (from other processes) and can now be made slicker by using new approaches and technologies.

Increased automation is needed to improve data quality; reporting; compliance; cost control; resilience; security; agility; and, customer satisfaction. It is not optional, as financial institutions simply won’t be able to meet their obligations and satisfy expectations in coming years without it. E.g. GDPR compliance; regulatory reporting; security and data protection. Therefore, the easiest thing to predict for 2019 is increased and better automation. Technologies that will play an increasing role in process automation in future are AI, Blockchain, Big Data, Cloud, and a suite of AI powered data management tools.

Artificial Intelligence

AI tools and approaches such as Expert Systems and Machine Learning (ML) have been used for many years in the industry. E.g. in fraud and intrusion detection; personal finance; portfolio management; wealth management (‘robo advisory’); algorithmic trading; customer services; message and document parsing, etc. ML is often used for automating repetitive tasks and processes where decision points make automatic software adaptation (‘learning’) an important aid to productivity and quality.  To the use-case list above will increasingly be added ‘loan and insurance underwriting’ as these will possibly see the fastest growth of ML use in 2019. By adopting ML, lenders and insurance companies will realise significant improvements in productivity as manual effort reduces, errors diminish, quality improves, and costs are reduced.

To ML we can add Deep Learning (DL) where a computer model learns to perform classification tasks directly from text, images, sound etc. This allows unstructured data to be included into analyses. Unstructured data can include news, social media posts; emails; web pages; video files; audio files; and, images. Big Data and ML technologies then allow enormous amounts of unstructured data to be parsed and analysed quickly. As well as increasing the scope and power of models and analytics for planning and decision making, DL also facilitates automation generally; e.g. including images in automotive claims handling and analysing them using DL overcomes one of the main barriers to fully automating the process. From an analysis, decision making, processing and planning perspective the addition of unstructured data into the world of corporate analytics means a huge increase in the power of models. It is hard to over-state the importance of this development. Expect a noticeable upward trend in implementations of Deep Learning in 2019.

Another aspect of AI, Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs or Neural Nets) are also being used increasingly in the industry. Neural networks can handle the uncertainty that cannot be accommodated by traditional expert systems (which require full information as an input). Handling uncertainty makes neural nets excellent for non-linear, data-driven modelling and prediction purposes in economic scenario analyses; stock market predictions; portfolio assessments and strategies; credit assessments and lending decisions; options pricing; forecasting FX rates; bankruptcy predictions, etc. Unlike traditional expert systems, it is the data that determines the structure of the model, without any restrictive parameter assumptions. This is a huge step-forward in efficiency terms.  Unsurprisingly, the current trend is that neural network software usage is increasing at nearly 30% across all industries, with financial services accounting for almost half of all ANN usage currently[i].

As well as the rise of ANNs, the growth of AI implementations based on Natural Language Processing and Sentiment Analytics – e.g. chatbots and intelligent assistants – has been huge in 2018 and is set to continue in 2019. They are being used for voice for text dictation; team collaboration; employee calendar management; customer service; and, IT help desk management tasks. Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant are the most popular commercial products based on NLP. Research by Spiceworks[ii] found that 40% of large businesses will be using chatbots and intelligent assistants by the end of 2019.  Financial services will be a huge user.

For all of the reasons given above, increasing AI usage is an easy trend to predict for 2019.

Data Management

Depending which research you read, 90% of the world’s data were created in the past one or two years, with only using 1% of those data being used effectively[iii].

Two important data issues in financial services and capital markets are:

  • reconciling data that do not agree, whether that be for transaction processing (e.g. matching trades) or for reporting purposes.
  • effectiveness of data use is low. Institutions should be getting more value from the data that they hold.

At one level, both issues can be addressed by better data management. However, the first issue (data not agreeing) is often caused by the massive data redundancy often seen in financial institutions, with no single ‘Golden Copy’ of any data being held. The second issue (effectiveness) can be addressed by learning from companies in other domains who are leaders in turning data into stakeholder and shareholder value; e.g. ERP providers; social media companies; and, e-commerce. Using the (often AI powered) technologies, models, and techniques of these companies will allow financial institutions to improve data quality; save costs; achieve compliance; collate business intelligence; and, gain better insights into the behaviours of markets, and customers.  AI can help enormously by making the workload easier, e.g. by getting the data to build predictive models themselves.

Digitalisation, Fintech and Open Banking

The demand from customers for digitalisation of financial products and services is huge. When customers can access excellent, customer-centric, omni-channel, app based digital services in many other aspects of their lives (travel, e-commerce, media) it is hard to justify current online banking, insurance and investment offerings.  Plus, the majority of products and services in financial services are not yet digitalised at all. It is smart-phone app versions of banking, insurance and investment services that customers will be demanding increasingly, and it is how providers will be judged in future. Ease of use (utility) is everything now that anything can be delivered to your door with a single ‘click’; and, it is utility that disruptive Fintech firms are largely about. Open Banking in the UK and EU (and growing worldwide) with its open-API access to customer accounts for authorised Fintech firms now gives incumbent financial institutions the opportunity to partner with those firms and thus adopt the level of digitalisation expected by their customers; i.e. integration of multiple financial products and services from different providers into a single, optimised and productised service.  For these reasons, digitalisation will be strong trend in 2019.

Crypto-currencies

While articles continue to appear decrying Blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and crypto-exchanges, 2018 has seen NYSE creating the cryptocurrency trading platform Bakkt in collaboration with Microsoft and Starbucks with physically backed Bitcoin futures contracts; Fidelity announcing that it has been mining Bitcoin it since 2015, and is now offering it to its clients; Steve Wozniak joining an investment focused crypto start-up; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation using Ripple’s interledger protocol to help with payment services for the poor and unbanked; IBM partnering with Stellar Lumens for cross-border payment solutions; George Soros – formerly a critic – buying Bitcoin at the $6k low; David Swensen investing some of Yale’s $29.4 billion endowment in two venture funds dedicated to cryptocurrency; Circle (owned by Goldman Sachs) launching a crypto finance company; Square’s Cash app allowing users to buy and sell Bitcoin; Coinbase being valued at $8B; singer, American R&B singer Akon launching his own cryptocurrency to help bring security to the currency system in Africa; Steve Bannon betting on Bitcoin as ‘the future’ and talking about launching his own cryptocurrency; ex-Goldman President Gary Cohn joining a blockchain start-up; Venrock (owned by Rockefeller) investing in cryptocurrency; and, more initial coin offerings in the year than in all previous years added together.  So, guess what the prediction is for next year?  Sharply upwards for cryptocurrencies and digital currency exchanges of course!  You cannot resist the tide…

Distributed ledgers

As well as the growth of Blockchain enabled cryptocurrencies, increased use of Blockchain as an immutable, encrypted, distributed ledger in transaction processing and record keeping is an easy prediction for 2019. The industry spends huge amounts of money on a handful of processes where up to 99% of effort, money and time could be removed by using distributed ledger technology. Those perfect use cases are clearing and settlement; cross border payments (e.g. for international trade finance); smart contracts; KYC; and, loyalty and rewards schemes. Example of opportunities being realised so far include:

  • the Interbank Information Network (IIN) for payments, launched by JP Morgan, Society Generale and Santander in 2017 now has 75 members. Among other things, IIN’s blockchain eliminates the need for reconciliations and all the time delay, cost and effort that goes with them (e.g. in correspondent banking for international trade finance).
  • Nasdaq Linq – a Blockchain enabled settlements service for private markets (a market where paper and spreadsheets dominate currently) launched in 2015 – continues to grow.

Smart contracts are lagging behind other use-cases, but will be taking off in 2019 if announcements, events and projects in 2018 are anything to go by. E.g. the largest bank in Australia and New Zealand (CBA) received permission in September 2018 from the World Bank to issue a Blockchain-based bond that will be governed by legally verified smart contracts.  The smart contracts will be created, allocated, transferred and managed using distributed ledger technology.  It doesn’t take a genius to predict that this will be the first of many such bonds.

Ubiquitous infrastructure

Infrastructure availability and cost should no longer be regarded as a barrier to achieving ambitious objectives or providing great service in a cost-effective manner. The reason being that ubiquitous infrastructure / consumption-based IT services such as Cloud (which itself is associated with Infrastructure-as-a-Service; Platform-as-a-Service; and, Software-as-a-Service) make the latest technologies, methods, and services available to anyone at affordable prices with shorter procurement cycles, increased agility, improved scalability, higher reliability etc. Cloud has allowed companies to move to always available, infinitely scalable, current and secure infrastructures without the huge barriers (including people barriers) that came with on-premises / data-centred models.  According to IDC, almost half of all IT spending in the industry will be Cloud based next year.  By the following year, it will be over 60%.  All aspects of ubiquitous infrastructure will continue to throw strongly in 2019, but it is the practical, flexible models of Hybrid Cloud, Multi-Cloud and Connected-Cloud that work best for large financial institutions with their varied needs across storage; Big Data; networking; service delivery; infrastructure management; security; application deployment, etc.  Expect to see usage of these three models to increase sharply in the industry in 2019, but also expect to see all aspects of ubiquitous infrastructure and ‘as a service’ to explode next year.  This stuff is not commoditised yet (it still needs clever people to make it work at it best) but we are getting there.

Conclusions

2019 will be a make or break year for many financial institutions and their use of technology. They will either demonstrate significant improvements in automation, digitalisation, analytics, quality, productivity, security and compliance or they will start going backwards compared to their peer group. There is no need for institutions to reinvent the wheel to achieve the necessary objectives, as the tools that they need to deploy Blockchain, Big Data, AI, and Cloud are all available commercially. Here is to using better technology and getting great business outcomes in 2019!

Technology

How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry 2

By Marga Hoek, author of The Trillion Dollar Shift

Robotics technology has the potential to disrupt industries across all sectors – but its impact on the manufacturing industry will be transformative. Not only can robots increase productivity, efficiency and profit margins but adopting this tech for good will be a key way for the manufacturing industry to transition to a more sustainable future.

Driving productivity & efficiency

Manufacturing processes are faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective when humans and robots work together. Studies show that idle time is reduced by 85% when people work collaboratively with a human-aware robot, rather than in an all-human team.[1] Modern robotic automation is key to reshaping production processes to become more efficient and reliable. They deliver significant benefits for companies and investment is often recouped within just 18 months.[2]

Robots in manufacturing can allow businesses to monitor the production lines from anywhere and pinpoint issues quickly, allowing for production to continue smoothly and efficiently, ensuring companies surpass consumers’ expectations of supply chain speed and reliability. Intelligent industrial service robots are an upcoming industrial tool that will amplify manufacturing capabilities and allow businesses to safely operate faster, in places humans could never go, and with cognitive and physical capabilities not yet imagined.

Transitioning to a sustainable future

Robots are a vital way to reduce pollution and emissions from manufacturing operations. For starters, they reduce our reliance on larger vehicles and machines that are harmful to the planet. Robots’ ability to be extremely accurate and minimize errors is also hugely important in sustainability efforts to reduce waste. Robots also aid businesses in their energy-saving process because they do not require as much energy to operate as humans do. Where humans need facilities with sufficient lighting and heat, robots can work under cold and dark conditions. This drastically reduces the amount of energy used in the manufacturing production process. It is estimated that for every 1C reduced in factory heat levels, there is a potential saving of up to 8%.[3] In addition, up to 20% of energy savings can be reached if the plant turns off any unnecessary lighting.

Case Study: GE

Tech giant GE is a brilliant example of how robotics technology can both boost the bottom line and sustainability.

GE is at the forefront of robotics manufacturing technology. Their value proposition is tightly tied to productivity in field service and manufacturing and offers potential cost savings within operations. While delivering industrial-grade service robotic systems that enable automation, productivity and safety for GE and its customers, the company works closely with GE business units, GE customers and strategic partners across the globe to envision, shape and build intelligent robotic technologies from idea to commercialization.

Marga Hoek

Marga Hoek

GE’s recent $125 million investment project at its Decatur refrigerator plant boosted production capacity, added new “smart” technology and increased the site’s workforce.  This includes auto guided vehicles, or AGVs, that move materials through the assembly process and more than 50 robots that perform heavy lifting operations and repetitive tasks.

The expansion project, announced in June 2018, allowed GE Appliances to increase production to meet growing demand for its freezer-refrigerators, which are top-rated in the industry for both quality and reliability. The expansion created 255 jobs, bringing total employment at the plant to 1,300. The project boosts production capacity by 25 % and ensures early compliance with 2022 refrigerant changes, making the Alabama plant a super site for GE. GE Appliances said Industry 4.0 technology additions at the Decatur facility include data visualization, 3-D scanning, rapid prototyping and other smart automation that provides the operations team with real-time data to make better and faster decisions.

Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Utilizing robotics technology within the manufacturing industry can help to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for a healthier planet, to be met by 2030:

SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing: Collaborating with people, service robots work with shoulder-to-shoulder and over long distances, to fulfil dull, dirty and dangerous work.

SDG 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth: Presenting new growth opportunities for businesses and creating new jobs at manufacturing plants

SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure:  Manufacturing value proposition of robotics ties tightly to productivity and brings potential cost savings into those operations.

SDG 12 – Responsible Production & Consumption: Providing a new and rich data source for companies to produce products responsibly

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, in hardback and e-book. For more information go to www.margahoek.com

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/here-s-how-robots-can-help-us-confront-covid/

[2] https://www.industrialtechnology.co.uk/products–transforming-your-sustainability-with-robotic-automation.html

[3] https://greencleanguide.com/how-robotics-is-revolutionizing-sustainability/

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about.

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about. 3

By Rory Gray, Vice President of Sales at leading software automation firm, UiPath, explains what role Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play in improving the efficiency of finance and banking departments.

Pre-coronavirus, the finance and banking industries were already facing a myriad of challenges. Now, this myriad is quickly becoming ever more complicated. There is increasing pressure to react to declining business health, be flexible to changing customer behaviour and to adapt to evolving workforce dynamics.

Unfortunately, for these teams, improving agility is easier said than done. Many processes involve legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data. These processes are time-consuming and mundane, leaving finance and banking professionals hard-pressed to fit in client-centric and strategic work.

Take processing invoices. The way it’s done hasn’t changed for years in many organisations. It often involves a member or members of the finance team receiving the invoice by mail or email, approving it manually, printing, signing and submitting it to Accounts Payable. An AP Clerk then has to pick it up, read it, verify the approvals, extract the data and input it into to the accounting package. This all takes time and costs money. What’s more, it’s dull and prone to errors. People don’t want to spend their days doing it.

Imagine if processes such as invoicing, but also loan processing, credit card disputes and many more, could be automated. Finance and banking teams would spend much less time copying, pasting and printing and could refocus on business health and transformation.

RPA is the key to finding more time in the day  

Robotic Process Automation or RPA, is software that can work just like a human. It can use AI capabilities to read and interpret data from both physical and digital documents. It can extract the necessary information and it can transfer this to multiple IT applications. It’s a software robot – or digital assistant.

For finance and banking professionals, RPA could help them break free from the time constraints caused by inefficient and complex legacy operations by passing rule-based repetitive tasks to software robots. This saves time and money – and allows people to focus on the tasks that can make a difference to the business.

RPA can help carry the burden of compliance

Rory Gray

Rory Gray

With data extracted, processed and formatted by software robots, employees will also no longer have to carry the full and heavy burden of compliance.

However accurate we aim to be, the reality is that processing data is always open to mistakes. This is exacerbated by ever shifting market regulations. Software robots, however, are programmed by finance and banking professionals to strictly follow the same steps every time and thus do not fall victim to the same blunders as all humans inevitably do.

Of course, many regulatory compliance functions will often need to involve some human validation or decision making. While the robots work around the clock without fatigue to complete tasks, professionals can still intervene if there is an inaccuracy that requires the personal touch or a loop in the workflow where a decision is needed. Therefore, time-consuming compliance tasks can be passed to software robots, but humans ultimately remain in control.

This in turn provides better risk management and compliance, higher accuracy, better cycle times and improved throughput.

RPA in practice

This may all sound very futuristic, but in practice, many firms are already using RPA to free up employee time, improve compliance and save money.

For example, a leading smart infrastructure solutions firm we work with has created a software robot affectionately named Archie, which has taken over the responsibility for processing all invoices.

Pre-Covid, the 400,000 invoices received by the firm each year were dealt with manually. With Archie this is now fully automated freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time which employees can now use to focus on value-adding activities. It also means that no employee needs to come into the office to process the invoice, nor does any paper need to be passed around the team. Thus helping to keep the workforce safe.

With all this extra time, finance and banking departments can focus on adapting to and thriving in the current crisis. Moving away from data processing and towards advisory roles where they can best use their strategic skills.

Consequently, businesses will benefit during the pandemic and beyond and employees could see their roles shifting away from the mundane and towards tasks that keep them on their toes. A rare win-win in a difficult time.

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WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired 

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WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired  4

WeWALK, the smart cane designed for people who are blind or with low vision which is now in use across 37 markets, has joined Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme to accelerate WeWALK’s capability by developing and validating a human behaviour model for visually impaired users and creating a Voice Assistant designed for the visually impaired, providing the right mobility information when needed and allowing for even greater control of the WeWALK mobility experience.

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility $25 million 5-year programme is aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities. Through grants, technology, and AI expertise, the program aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions and build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that can see, hear, speak, understand and interpret people’s needs.

WeWALK’s new Voice Assistant will be released later in 2020 and will have immediate usability benefits, improving the user’s confidence as they mobilise. The assistant will be built on clearly derived requirements and natural usage patterns and the challenge that WeWALK is seeking to overcome is to make the assistant truly ‘smart’ and dynamic, where it will effectively categorize and deliver on the user’s commands in a host of different environments.

WeWALK’s human behaviour model is due for release in 2021 and is of significant importance as currently there are no accurate models for how a person who is blind moves and how their mobility holistically evolves, especially after receiving orientation and mobility training. As a result, healthcare, government, and mobility trainers cannot effectively track how a person who is blind mobilizes and whether or not intervention has had benefit. By using WeWALK’s built-in IMU (inertial measurement unit) sensors, including the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass, as well as data collected from a connected smartphone, the model can be implemented and expanded organically through daily usage. The first stage will be rigorous data collection and user testing, followed by data manipulation and classification to ensure that optimum reliability and system usability can be achieved.

Commenting upon WeWALK’s entry into the program Jean Marc Feghali, R&D Lead at WeWALK. “By working on these two objectives, WeWALK can set the standard for visually impaired mobility for both the individual user and the organisations that support them. We are now rigorously collecting mobility data with novel experimentation, validating our work by continuously engaging our users to ensure an exceptional product powered by Microsoft’s best. Being a part of the Microsoft family truly excites us, bringing us closer to mobility trainers, researchers, and the global visually impaired community.”

Mary Bellard, principal innovation architect lead at Microsoft adds “At Microsoft, we believe AI solutions built thoughtfully by and with the disability community have incredible potential to offer meaningful independence in people’s daily lives.  That’s why we’re thrilled to support WeWALK on this important assistive tool that stands to empower the millions of people around the world who use a white cane.”

With the power of Microsoft AI, WeWALK’s impact will be wide-reaching explains Kürşat Ceylan, WeWALK’s co-founder & CPO  “As a blind person from birth, I know that it is very important to get the right habits of using a cane from a young age. It is amazing to see how WeWALK can enhance this aspect of our lives with high tech, making training and orientation more effective. I believe that the smart cane will be a symbol for the fully independent journey people who are blind or with low vision.”

Selected as one of the best inventions of 2019 by TIME Magazine, WeWALK is a member of YGA Ventures, which is an ecosystem of impact entrepreneurs.  The team envisions WeWALK as a platform for continuous and collaborative development, putting it at the forefront of cutting-edge assistive technologies. This is exemplified through WeWALK’s collaboration with Microsoft, where WeWALK participated in Microsoft’s 2019 AI for Good in the UK.

The WeWALK smart cane is currently available on the market and can be purchased on the company website www.wewalk.io. The free WeWALK mobile app which provides various features such as VIP friendly navigation and public transport tracking capabilities is also available for immediate download on both iOS and Android devices.

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