This $400 Cane Uses Autonomous Vehicle Tech to Help Guide The Visually Impaired

A white cane, which is the standard, is essential for visually impaired people to get around. However, there have not been any affordable updates to it, something that researchers are trying to change.
The team borrowed technology from autonomous vehicles to create a self-navigating smartcane that can detect obstacles and then nudge the user away.

The smart, augmented cane improved the walking speed of visually impaired volunteers 18 percent in tests. This assistive technology could make a significant difference in the quality of life for the approximately 250 million people worldwide who have sight problems.

Patrick Slade, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University in California, says that they wanted something more user-friendly. "Something that can not only inform you if there is an object in your path, but also tells you what it is and helps you navigate around it."

LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) is a key component of the smart cane. It uses reflective lasers to detect objects and determine distances. Common sensors for smartphones include GPS, magnetometers and accelerometers. These sensors track the user's speed, position, and direction.

The software side of the cane employs several artificial intelligence algorithms. Among them is simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), which allows you to build a map of an unknown area and track a user's position within it.

A motorized, omnidirectional, motorized wheel that can be pointed in any direction can be found at the tip of the cane. It can also be used to guide walkers to a place like a coffee shop, much like a smartphone, car sat-nav, or smartphone.

Mykel Kochenderfer, a computer scientist from Stanford, says that while we want humans to have control, we also want them to have the right amount of gentle guidance to get them there safely and efficiently.

(Andrew Brodhead/Stanford University)

Although this isn't the first time technology has been put into smart canes it's not uncommon. However, current models are expensive and heavy. The new model is lighter and may be available for as little as a tenth the price of existing smart canes.

According to Slade, the cane was created with the assistance of visually impaired people who provided "incredible feedback". Many of the design decisions and navigation strategies were influenced by the feedback from those who would be using the device.

This is a prototype for research purposes. Their design has been made open-source by the team so that anyone can make their own smart cane or help in its development.

Kochenderfer says, "We wanted this project to be easy to replicate and low cost." Kochenderfer says that anyone can download the code, bill, and electronic schematics for free.

Science Robotics published the research.