Launched in 2018, Axcessiom Technologies has made leaps and bounds with regards to improving the lives of those living with impaired accessibility.
A software and electronics manufacturing startup, Axcessiom strives to build the most intuitive and accessible products with safety, reliability and affordability equal in priority. With its high-tech automobile products, Axcessiom enhances the social and economic livelihoods of those living with disabilities.
Spark Centre caught up with Shanjay Kailayanathan, Founder and CEO of Axcessiom Technologies and Hanna Haponenko, Managing Partner and COO, to discuss how this innovative company started, how far it has come and where it’s headed to next.
Spark Centre: Why was Axcessiom Technologies created?
Shanjay Kailayanathan: As someone who requires the use of hand controls while driving, I had realized that I was at times forced to drive in an unsafe manner due to the design of traditional hand controls. The way that these are set up makes a driver control the gas and brake with one hand while steering with the other, forcing both hands to always be in use. With this in mind, imagine trying to merge onto a highway and having to use one hand to accelerate while the other hand steers. With both hands preoccupied, it’s extremely difficult to initiate your turn signal without taking your hand off the control. At times you may have no other option than to not signal at all which is against the law and, more importantly, dangerous for yourself and other drivers. Unfortunately this is just one of many unsafe driving situations that occur with hand controls. Realizing I wasn’t alone in this issue, I came up with the solution of a Drivers Assistance System which provides drivers who use hand controls with a safer and easier way of accessing secondary vehicle functions, like the turn signal.
Spark Centre: Aside from your brilliance, what has helped Axcessiom to get started on the creation of this technology?
Hanna Haponenko: With funding from the Ontario Centre of Innovation’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), we have been able to hire a software engineer and an embedded systems engineer. We were able to allocate this funding, as well as funding from the Investment Readiness Program, towards the purchase of required resources to build our technology, like our Facial Gesture Recognition Software, quickly.
Spark Centre: What are the latest developments with your Facial Gesture Recognition Software?
Hanna: Our Facial Gesture Recognition Software allows drivers with disabilities to safely and confidently control secondary vehicle functions using facial gestures such as winking with your left eye to use the left turn signal or smiling to turn on windshield wipers. We’re currently finalizing the release of our Version 1 – Pilot Facial Gesture Recognition Product. With this pilot, we’ll have the ability to test the effectiveness of using an eye blink or smile to turn on different vehicle functions like turn signals and windshield wipers. Our system consists of a camera-processor-can transceiver connected to the CANBUS of the vehicle. Since the system only uses one hardwired connection to access a variety of secondary functions, we’re able to avoid bulky installation.
Spark Centre: All startups encounter challenges along the way to success. What are some of the hurdles that you have overcome to get to where you are today?
Hanna: Towards the end of 2020, Shanjay Kailayanathan and I had reached out to a subcontracting group of PhD engineers to assist us in reverse engineering a Dodge Caravan that we had purchased. Unfortunately we realized that partnering with these subcontractors would not only take an extensive amount of time — 12 months — but there was also an exorbitant price tag attached and that said we had to look elsewhere. In discussion with Dr. Ali Emadi, Director of the McMaster Institute for Automotive Research and Technology, he recommended enlisting the help of Pavneet Singh — a recent graduate in electrical engineering that had worked on McMaster’s EcoCAR Challenge. Despite not undergoing his PhD nor having worked with other engineers, Pavneet’s motivation to learn and passion for automotive engineering enabled him to reverse engineer our Dodge Caravan in as little as two months.
Another challenge that we face daily is that in addition to building our startup, both Shanjay and I are still students — Shanjay completing his Bachelors Degree in Software Engineering at Ontario Tech University and I completing my PhD in Experimental Psychology at McMaster University. However with the amazing assistance of our employees and volunteers, we’re able to successfully juggle our studies with entrepreneurship for the time being and are looking forward to graduating and having the ability to dedicate our full focus to our company.
Spark Centre: You mentioned having purchased a Dodge Caravan in late 2020 to reverse engineer and control with your own computer system. What has happened since and what are your plans moving forward?
Shanjay: We’re excited to announce that we have successfully engineered a computer system that is able to access and control secondary vehicular functions — like turn signals, headlights, windshield wipers and more — with a mere facial gesture.
The Chevrolet Traverse is a hot, new vehicle that’s currently being converted to become wheelchair accessible by a company in the US called BraunAbility. Where most wheelchair accessible vehicles are minivans, the Chevrolet Traverse will be the first, full-sized SUV to offer wheelchair accessibility, offering more choice. That having been said, we want our Driver Assistance System to be compatible with the Chevrolet Traverse in time for the release of these new accessible SUVs and so we have decided to reverse engineer a Chevrolet Traverse.
Tony Wilson at Ontario Motor Sales in Oshawa, Ontario, has graciously offered us a new Chevrolet Traverse to reverse engineer and test our technology. With the experience we’ve gained from reverse engineering and successfully controlling the Dodge Caravan, we’re confident that we’ll be able to quickly complete testing on the Traverse before the end of this summer.
Spark Centre: How do you feel combining your technology with the anticipated new accessibility of a Chevrolet Traverse will provide a competitive edge for Canada in the autonomous vehicle space?
Shanjay: We believe that Axcessiom Technologies will be one of the first — if not the first — company in the world to provide a system like ours that’s compatible with the Chevrolet Traverse. Not only will this give us a good market advantage but it will position us as the first Canadian company to offer this kind of technology in a marketplace that’s currently dominated by American and European companies.
Spark Centre: What does Axcessiom need to take your innovation to the next level?
Hanna: With our Pilot product release, we will need users to provide us with feedback regarding the use of our product. This feedback
will enable us to buff out any and all kinks in our amour prior to commercialization. User feedback will also provide us with opportunities for pre-orders which will give us the customer traction we need to attract investors who, in turn, will enable us to scale our company and continue to pay our essential employees.
In the blink of an eye, Axcessiom Technologies has skyrocketed from an idea built from necessity in 2018 to a successful, innovative computer system with the capability of changing the lives of anyone facing impaired accessability.