For centuries, blind individuals have used canes to help navigate busy urban areas. The sweeps and taps of the stick help them to identify if there are any obstacles blocking their immediate path, when to step up or down, when to turn, and if they’ve arrived at their destination.
Now modern technology is taking this classic tool to the next level. A blind man is leading a team of experts that are integrating smart sensors and Google Maps into a new “smart cane” that gives users even more amounts of information about where they’re going.
How the smart cane works
The WeWalk cane uses a combination of ultrasonic sensors and Google Maps to identify objects and directions within the area that its sight-impaired owner is trying to navigate. It then interacts with its owner using voice controls, a built-in speaker, vibrations, and an optional smartphone app remote connection.
What does the smart cane look like in action? As the user moves the cane, it detects a number of objects both at foot level, at chest level, and even higher. As the sensors in the cane detect objects, it warns users through vibrations in the handle. Here’s a look:
If users want to be able to identify streets, stores, and landmarks that they’re walking past, the cane can do that too. It uses voice controls and Google Maps to alert them to nearby locations, if they need to turn, and how much further they have to go before they arrive at their destination. The cane can also remotely connect to a user’s smartphone, which means they can operate the device hands-free while they’re using their stick.
About the team that developed WeWalk
The WeWalk assistive device was developed by a team from Turkey called the Young Guru Academy, led by sight-impaired CEO and founder Kursat Ceylan. Ceylan intimately understood the challenges of navigating urban areas and related his experience of walking through a Metro Station to a reporter at CNN. He told the news outlet about difficulties and determining even the simplest things at the station such as where his exit was.
Ceylan wanted to do something to make a difference and knew modern technology could help. As he told the reporter “While these days we’re talking a lot about flying cars, these people are using just a plain stick.”
The smart cane is currently being sold at retail for $500 and the team has plans to take the technology as far as they can. Their most immediate next-level goals are to pair it with ridesharing apps and other forms of transportation.
Solving a substantial mobility issue
The need for this kind of assistive technology is clear and mobility for sight reduced individuals is an issue that impacts a significant number of people. In the U.S. alone, the Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 3.4 million citizens over the age of 40 are either legally blind or are categorized as visually impaired. These numbers only increase with age. Furthermore, vision loss is categorized as among the top ten disabilities in the country.
Statistical studies also show some of the extent to which visually-impaired individuals experience a loss of mobility. Separate European journals based in the UK and in Denmark each address this issue. The transportation-based survey in the UK showed that adults with mobility issues, including but not limited to blindness, took an average of 39% fewer transit trips as compared with their fully mobile counterparts. The research from Denmark showed that their sight-impaired subjects’ severely limited mobility impacted their occupational choices, activities of daily living, space, and overall independence. Hopefully, future smart-enabled assisted devices like the WeWalk cane can make a difference, bringing a better future to anyone suffering from visual impairments.
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