DeepWalk, an automated measurement company whose first product streamlines the wheelchair sidewalk accessibility process for cities and universities, announced the close of a $1.4M seed investment from CEAS Investments on May 1, 2023. The investment brings DeepWalk’s total financing to $1.8M. The funding will support the rapid growth fueled by increased infrastructure funding, shifts in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, and new capabilities in LiDAR sensor technology.
DeepWalk’s iPhone scanning app makes a 3D model of the sidewalk, then uses machine learning to inspect it for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The software then generates the maps, reports, and construction documents cities need to make the sidewalk accessible for people with disabilities.
The new funding will enable DeepWalk to scale its automated measurement processing to address the rapidly growing demand from cities, universities, and the engineering consultants that serve them. In 2022, DeepWalk’s software was used to perform more than 3,000 sidewalk accessibility inspections across Danville, Peoria, and Corinth. This data is being used to plan construction projects to improve sidewalk wheelchair accessibility. The Department of Justice requires every city and university to inspect their sidewalk system for accessibility issues, then create a Transition Plan to address those issues. Failing to do this often leads to multi-million dollar lawsuits: Seattle ($294M), New York ($1.4B), Los Angeles ($1.6B). DeepWalk supplies the tools to simply reach and implement these accessibility requirements.
“As a City Engineer, the data we get from working with DeepWalk helps us comply with ADA Transition Plan requirements and be more informed when making decisions about the hazards and needs in our community. It also shows our community that we are being proactive about the issue of accessibility. The DeepWalk process is pretty hands off for managers as the technology allows capable interns to lead the charge. After completing an assessment of about 20-25% of Danville’s sidewalks, we are excited to continue the process. The best part is that the technology, data, and dashboards that DeepWalk provides are always improving, providing even more value than when we started,” said Sam Cole, a client and City Engineer of Danville, IL.
DeepWalk’s main focus for 2023 is growing its consulting partner program. The program allows civil engineering consulting firms and data collection firms to offer DeepWalk sidewalk inspections as a service to their city and university clients. DeepWalk’s software automates the cumbersome data collection process for their sidewalk-related projects and gives their clients a simple path to Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance. DeepWalk’s iPhone-based data collection process requires less than 15 minutes of training, allowing them to rapidly deploy the solution across hundreds of clients nationwide.
DeepWalk’s technology isn’t just limited to sidewalks. The team is piloting a new batch of inspection types including traffic signals, transit stops, crosswalks, and building entrances. These new products were requested from cities, universities, and consultants already working with DeepWalk. The technical team has also been experimenting with other data collection systems such as drones, car-mounted LiDAR, satellite, and tripod-based survey equipment. The 3D models from these systems can be fed into their existing software, greatly increasing data collection speed and the types of inspections DeepWalk can automate. “As cities continue to focus on accessibility as a means to support growth, DeepWalk is poised to provide an easy and cost-effective solution to the presently complicated process of becoming ADA compliant. We are excited to partner with DeepWalk and look forward to seeing cities continue to leverage DeepWalk to attain ADA compliance,” said Blake Hatten, Venture Analyst at CEAS Investment Team.
“We’re excited to lead the charge on bringing AI-enabled engineering solutions to the city engineers that build and maintain the infrastructure that we rely on every day,” said Brandon Yates, CEO of DeepWalk.
DeepWalk is a product of the entrepreneurship programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the University of Chicago. Founded in 2019, the company participated in university-sponsored programs such as the Cozad New Venture Challenge, NSF iCorps, iVenture Accelerator, and Polsky College New Venture Challenge. The cofounders Brandon Yates (Civil Engineering, UIUC Class of 2021) and Anshul Shah (Computational Physics, UIUC Class of 2021) have been pursuing the company full-time since May 2021. They were supported by pre-seed investors such as Illinois Ventures, LongJump, Mark Tebbe, Manu Edakara, Jonathan Prigoff, Alex Davies, Jill Soley, Jacob Isserman, and Emily Aron.
The team has been based out of the University of Illinois Research Park, EnterpriseWorks Incubator since 2021. The DeepWalk team is changing headquarters to Chicago (620 LaSalle in River North).
“The University of Illinois Research Park is the perfect place to found a tech-based startup. Extremely high access to talented technologists with skillsets in machine learning and computer vision that are very challenging to find elsewhere. Our company is a blend of Civil Engineering, Computer Science, and Entrepreneurship (All areas where the University of Illinois is a nationally recognized leader).
“The shift to Chicago allowed us to more easily hire mid-level software engineers to help mature our technical stack. Chicago’s central location and reasonable cost of living gives it a significant edge over other tech hubs in the US. It also has a rapidly growing startup ecosystem that we are excited to join.”
– Brandon Yates, CEO of DeepWalk