Stanford Researchers Design a High-Tech White Cane That Nudges Users Away From Obstacles

Home Technology Stanford Researchers Design a High-Tech White Cane That Nudges Users Away From Obstacles
Stanford Researchers Design a High-Tech White Cane That Nudges Users Away From Obstacles
A shot of the Augmented Cane performing navigation assistance outdoors.
A shot of the Augmented Cane performing navigation assistance outdoors.
Photo: Andrew Brodhead

Engineers at Stanford University have attempted to improve the standard white cane, used to help visually impaired people move around independently and safely. In a new study this week, their design, simply named the Augmented Cane, seemed to improve the walking speed and navigation skills of both sighted and visually impaired people. The scientists say their open source design should make it easier for this technology to eventually reach the visually impaired community.

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Canes for navigation have been used for centuries by some visually impaired and blind people. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the white cane—the white is meant to make the cane most easily noticeable to others—became synonymous with visual assistance. Despite this long history, only a small percentage of eligible people use white canes (8%, according to one estimate). Canes aren’t a perfect solution for detecting obstacles while walking, even after the extensive training needed to use them, and there are other methods for navigation, such as a guide dog, that may be preferred.

Patrick Slade, a PhD student in robotics at Stanford, had been focused on ways to improve the mobility through exoskeletons or prostheses. But during his time at Stanford’s Intelligent Systems Lab, he began to learn about new developments in improving autonomous vehicles. It made him wonder whether some of this work could be applied toward improving the classic cane and making it more usable for a wide variety of environments.

“The challenges of the visually impaired community are well documented in research literature, but their methods of navigation and preferred solutions depend on a lot of factors such as level of impaired vision, physical fitness, income, location/walkability of their neighborhood, etc,” Slade told Gizmodo in an email.

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