It's not just a story about technology or entrepreneurship. It´s way more than that. Luis de Matos moves in a wheelchair since 2001 following a sports injury. It was by the moment he started living on his own that he realized the difficulty of shopping in supermarkets: he could not even carry a basket or push a cart. How could the goods be carried out?
In 2012, as part of his degree in Computer Engineering at UBI, Luis developed an academic research project that would be the origin of the wiiGO - a completely stand-alone shopping cart designed to follow a person during the shopping process.
This project would lead to the creation of Follow Inspiration, a start-up that already has 17 people working full time in the wiiGO project. The company received in 2013 the funding of TIC Risco and in 2015 the funding of Portugal Ventures.
"For most people, technology makes things easier.
For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible."
How does the wiiGO work?
The wiiGO is a completely stand-alone shopping cart designed to follow a person during the purchasing process, helping people with (or without) reduced mobility carrying the products.
Its operation mode is quite simple: the user just needs to be positioned in front of the wiiGO, press the START button and, in a few seconds, a full facial recognition of the user will be made solely based on computer vision.
From this moment on, the wiiGO replicates the movement of the person, avoiding obstacles and following him/her anywhere, without ever losing sight.
The aim of Follow Inspiration was not only to develop something that is claimed as a solution to the problems experienced by disabled people, but to create a product that does not convey the sense of discrimination when in use.
The user interaction with the product is quite simple, which is first and foremost a facilitator of technology integration, regardless of the different scenarios it can be applied. This is because the wiiGO can be more than a shopping carrier: it can make purchase suggestions or speed up the payment process by introducing an intelligence component. The video posted on YouTube shows how it works:
From commercial surfaces to the industry
Follow Inspiration intends that each commercial surface with more than 500m2 has at least one wiiGO. And not only in Portugal, because this is a unique product in the world.
There are immense potential users of the wiiGO. First, people with disabilities. But also people with reduced mobility, such as the elderly, the pregnant, or those who may need temporary aid to walk with crutches. Finally, people with no desire to carry a basket or pushing a stroller.
The potential increase in sales induced by the wiiGO is significant, so Follow Inspiration estimates the investment made by a commercial surface can be recovered over a period of six months.
Additionally to retail, the wiiGO can also be applied in the industrial area, to aid the logistics process of major industries (such as automotive), assembly lines and also, for example, at airports. The wiiGo is a versatile platform that can also have applications in hospitals, residential and logistics environment, among others.
CEiiA´s role in the product development
During the first phase of involvement, CEiiA redefined the style of the new wiiGO retail model in order to give it a more appealing aesthetic than the previous version. This new design is still confidential, so it can not be presented (yet!).
Based on the initial CAD sketches and drawings provided by Follow Inspiration and on all the requirements of the product, the teams of CEiiA worked on the project´s new style definition to quickly reach the technical maturity required for the materialization of the first functional prototype.
The project went through a second phase focused on the review of several technical requirements, some style changes and numerous iterations with Follow Inspiration´s technical team culminating in the production of a new functional prototype with an increased technical maturity level, closer to the final production version.
The four prototypes produced so far enabled Follow Inspiration to test new features, perform on-site testing (in shopping centres, evaluating early public acceptance), and also gauge the mechanical behaviour and point out any changes necessary to implement the version that will be industrialised in the short term.
Follow Inspiration believes that "The support of CEiiA has been key to the growth not only of our product, but of the company itself as well. CEiiA holds an advanced knowledge in product development, and this factor is crucial for a startup like Follow Inspiration" says Ricardo Silva, Head of Marketing of Follow Inspiration.
An important point to emphasize is that Follow Inspiration has already started the certification process of wiiGO retail, using a functional prototype.
Soon, CEiiA should also collaborate with Follow Inspiration in the wiiGO retail industrialization process, ensuring, in parallel, the pre-series production, depending on product orders that may arise during this process.
CEiiA´s support in the incubation
Follow Inspiration has been operating on the premises of CEiiA.
"There are several advantages of being based at CEiiA. In addition to the premises themselves, we are also closer to the entity responsible for prototyping wiiGO, which makes the whole process easier. Furthermore, we are in a business ecosystem with great resources at an industry level and rather closer to business partners and customers." Says Ricardo Silva, who adds "This partnership can evolve in different ways. At this early stage, CEiiA is an important partner in the production and development of the wiiGO, but both entities will, very soon, make efforts to combine development teams and projects, strengthening an increasingly synergetic relationship we want to keep."