Smart Cane Offers Mobility for Visually Impaired

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Researchers have open-sourced their technology, which will allow developers to build smart canes at home using their own parts.

The visually impaired could gain the use of a smart new tool designed to make navigating their environment more manageable. Stanford University researchers have created an affordable robotic cane equipped with sensors and artificial intelligence-driven way-finding technology.

Researchers equipped the cane with LIDAR sensors, similar to those used in self-driving cars. The sensors detect and measure the distance to obstacles, helping users avoid them sooner than the traditional cane method.

The cane also reads other sensor information from applications like GPS, accelerometers, and gyroscopes to measure the user’s speed and position. AI-driven algorithms learn from this range of input, helping users navigate their environment more efficiently through each use.

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The pivotal component is a motorized omni-directional wheel that gently nudges the user into a different direction or position, making the cane an extension of the user’s own senses. The cane also allows for purposeful movements, such as guiding a user to a particular location.

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The smart cane increased walking speed for users

Users experienced an average of 20% increase in walking speed over the traditional white cane. Sighted test subjects wearing blindfolds increased their walking speed by a third, suggesting that the cane allows success even with little previous experience walking with a traditional white cane.

Researchers have open-sourced their technology, which will allow developers to build canes at home using their own parts. The cane cost researchers just $400 to build, a vast improvement over other smart cane options available at this time or the cost of trained animal companions. Its three-pound weight makes it more practical as well.

The team will continue to develop cane components, such as smartphone processing and scaling training and production methods. Currently, anyone can download the codes, electronic schematics, and bill of materials, all for free.

Elizabeth Wallace

About Elizabeth Wallace

Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do.

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