Scientists have developed a new smart cane that could help transform the lives of the blind and visually impaired by allowing them to sense the environment beyond the physical length of their walking stick.
Researchers from The University of Manchester in the UK upgraded the cane – which has been used as a mobility tool for centuries – by adding a low-cost embedded computer.
The tool, dubbed mySmartCane works much like a common car parking sensor.
The ultrasonic ball wirelessly measures the distance to approaching objects and converts this data into an audio signal.
The visually impaired user can gauge the object distance from the frequency of the sound, before the cane physically bumps against an object.
The user can hear the sounds using either a single headphone or a pair of bone-conducting headphones, so they can listen to their external environment without losing their freedom.
“MySmartCane allows visual impaired people to sense their environment beyond the physical length of their cane,” said Vasileios Tsormpatzoudis, researcher at The University of Manchester.
“The user is alerted to approaching objects using gentle audio, rather than waiting for the cane to physically bump into the object. Navigation is therefore easier and much faster,” said Tsormpatzoudis.
“In preparation for the project, I conducted many conversations with existing white cane users,” said Tsormpatzoudis.
“The key takeaway was that my modernised white-cane had to be as simple and low-cost, so I used 3D printing and cheap sensors to create an ultrasonic sensory ball, which attaches to the bottom of most existing white-canes,” he said.