Making your way through the crowded streets of urban Bangkok can be challenging…. Now imagine doing it in a wheelchair.
Built to make it easier to navigate Bangkok, a group of students from Thammasat University came up with the Wheel-Go-Round app, which makes use of user-generated content, augmented reality and maps that helps wheelchair users find the best possible routes around the city.
The app was designed with support from the Microsoft Student Partner Program. It maintains an updated database of crowdsourced content; when users visit a place, be it a shopping mall, restaurant, hotel or parking lot, they can take a photo, write a comment and share on the site.
The app has already helped individuals like Noppadol “Kui” Wannaborworn, who was just 17 years old when a drunk driver ended his dreams of becoming a professional footballer – Kui had been selected for Thailand’s national football team when the accident robbed him of his mobility.
“I was riding my motorcycle when a truck crashed into my bike. I lost both my legs,” Kui said. Confronting life in a wheelchair, the athlete initially became withdrawn. “You feel embarrassed and don’t want to go out,” he said. “If you have an accident and you are disabled, you need to learn to accept your body first.”
To successfully overcome his disability, Kui had to get outdoors, which in Bangkok can be difficult for the wheelchair-bound.
“Bangkok streets have a lot of bumps and potholes and also there is a lack of ramps,” Kui said. “So many people on the sidewalks also make it tough for wheelchair users.” Fortunately for Kui and his buddies, wheeling around and navigating through the busy streets of Bangkok has been made easier thanks the app.
Wheel-Go-Round co-founder Lipda Jarutian estimates there are 1.2 million disabled people in Thailand her app can help. With about 3,000 active users (wheelchair users, caregivers and members of the public) and counting, Wheel-Go-Round now has the capacity to expand their efforts to other areas of Thailand, as well as invest in outreach programs in Chiang Mai and overseas in Korea and Japan.
“The goal is to not only make domestic travel in Thailand easier. We want to help wheelchair users from all over the world.”
The success of the app has also how Microsoft’s support for community-based technology is important for young developers. “They didn’t just help us with promoting the app. It’s been support in terms of thought leadership and courses designed to promote interaction and ideas between young developers,” Lipda said.
Wheel-Go-Round Programmers such as Patrapon Leelaprachakul were assigned mentors from Microsoft as they developed the app.
“We get the chance to learn from people who are leaders in the industry,” she said “My involvement in the programme has completely changed my views on technology and programming.”
Wheel-Go-Round has gone on to become an award-winning success, garnering a gold medal at the Mekong Business Challenge 2013/14. They were also a finalist in the Global Society Venture Competition in South East Asia in 2014.
For Kui, his increased mobility has helped him discover love for a new sport: wheelchair basketball. The young athlete has taken to it with the same vigor as football. In just a few short years after becoming wheelchair-bound, Kui has once again made it to a national team and will be playing basketball for Thailand at the Rio 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.