Researchers develop a smart walking stick with integrated navigation for the visually impaired

Researchers at Stanford University developed a smart cane that could greatly change the routine of people who are blind or visually impaired, which has built-in navigation.

The academics were inspired by and leveraged technology designed for autonomous vehicles in the design of the cane to guide its users safely and efficiently through any environment.

The pole is designed to help the user detect any obstacles in their path and easily navigate around those obstacles indoors or out. One of the biggest benefits of this new item is that it is significantly cheaper than previous smart poles, priced at $ 400 and lighter in weight.

Some of the smart canes already on the market are extremely heavy, weighing up to 50 pounds and cost as much as $ 6,000, 15 times more than the Stanford University cane, according to the report by Slash Gear.

A cane that can be built at home

The researchers aimed to build an easy, portable cane for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are visually impaired. It only weighs three pounds and could be built at home from freely available parts and open source software for $ 400.

The new augmented pole uses state-of-the-art sensors, including a LIDAR sensor that is used to measure the distance to obstacles to help users avoid them. Additional sensors include GPS, accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyros, and they work together to monitor users’ position, speed, direction, and other data.

In addition, this baton also has robotic and path locating algorithms based on artificial intelligence, similar to simultaneous location and mapping technology. At the tip of the pole there is a motorized omnidirectional wheel designed to be in constant contact with the ground. That wheel is a critical component of the system and guides the user by gently pulling left or right around obstacles. The built-in GPS capability can guide the user to precise locations.

We wanted something easier to use than a simple white cane with sensors. Something that not only tells you that there is an object in your path, but will tell you what that object is and then help you navigate around it.”Explains Patrick Slade, a graduate research assistant at Stanford’s Intelligent Systems Laboratory and lead author of an article published in the journal Science Robotics describing the augmented cane.

Next steps for the Stanford University team include improvements to their prototype and the development of a model that uses an everyday smartphone as a processor, a breakthrough that could improve functionality, expand access to technology, and further reduce plus costs.

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