Monday, August 17, 2009

Smart Canes

Almost every day I run across a news story about technological advances to aid people who are blind, deaf or deafblind. It's very exciting time right now as it seems there is more and more focus on finding assistive technology to make all of life more accessible for people with disabilities.

I've mentioned in previous posts about how my son, Chip, worked in the biomedical engineering lab at our local university this summer to assist in the development of a haptic device used to teach geometry to students who are blind. And then there was the story about Virginia Tech and their car for blind drivers. Now, I've found a story about a 'smart cane', a white cane with technology inbedded to make travel safer for people who are blind. What makes this all the more exciting is knowing how much more Ashley will be able to accomplish and experience as a result of all these developments!

According to the Associated Press, A cane equipped with the technology that retailers use to tag merchandise could help blind people avoid obstacles.

An engineering professor and five students at Central Michigan University have created a "Smart Cane" to read electronic navigational tags installed between buildings to aid the blind in reaching their destinations more easily.

"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," said Kumar Yelamarthi, the professor and project leader. "We wanted to do something that would help people and make our campus more accessible."

During the spring term, Yelamarthi and five senior engineering students tested the cane, which is equipped with Radio Frequency Identification technology, similar to what retailers put on products to keep them from being stolen.

The Smart Cane contains an ultrasonic sensor that is paired with a miniature navigational system inside a messenger-style bag worn across the shoulder.

For the test, the students installed identification tags between two buildings on the campus in Mount Pleasant, Mich.. A speaker located on the bag strap gave audio alerts when the system detected an obstacle and told the user which direction to move.

Students wearing glasses that simulate visual impairment tested the cane.

The students also created a vibrating glove to assist those who are both visually and hearing-impaired.

Yelamarthi said it's one of the first outdoor applications of RFID and said he plans for students in upcoming classes to further refine the system while he seeks grants to speed the research.

The next step probably involves using the system in a wider area. Down the line, Yelamarthi wants to work toward integrating the Smart Cane's data with GPS.


Carl Anderson said...

With all of this new technology, why can't the federal government make paper currency that vision-impaired people can handle and distinguish between dollar amounts?

Ashley's Mom said...

Excellent point. In fact, I just discussed that with Ashley's IEP team. The only strategy at present is to fold bills differently. But, that works when a blind person wants to spend, but not when they are presented with change, payment, etc.