Smart cane to help blind navigate

Developed by students at Central Michigan University, new smart cane uses radio frequency transmitters to help people navigate around objects and determine where to walk.

A new "smart" cane developed by students at Central Michigan University may be just the first step in helping blind people more easily get around by themselves.

The Smart Cane uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to detect obstacles and alert the user on where and how to navigate while walking, according to a news item published July 29 from Central Michigan University (CMU).

A volunteer tests the Smart Cane.
A volunteer tests the Smart Cane. Central Michigan University

Equipped with an ultrasonic sensor, the cane works in tandem with a navigational system inside a bag worn by the user. Together, they detect RFID tags mounted on small flags that stick out of the ground.

A speaker on the bag's strap alerts the user when an obstacle is in the way and tells the person where to walk. For people who can't hear, a special glove vibrates different fingertips to provide direction on where to navigate.

"We are one of the first to research the use of RFID technology outdoors," said Kumar Yelamarthi, a CMU assistant professor of engineering and the project's leader. "This project started as a way for me to teach students to see and understand the ways that engineering can be used for the greater good. We wanted to do something that would help people and make our campus more accessible."

The students who designed the system set up a test with volunteers who used it to navigate around campus. CMU said the volunteers found the system to be effective, especially with navigation.

Since the cane requires RFID flags along the path to navigate, its use in the real world is limited for now. But the students see this as just the first step of a much larger project.

"The project has immense potential," said CMU senior Wil Martin, who worked on the student team. "This was a preliminary effort that I believe will pave the way for future projects and ultimately result in a device that will help the visually impaired move with the same ease and confidence as a sighted person. It can happen if the project continues. I am confident in this."

 

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