Vibrating SmartCane uses ultrasonic ranging to help the visually impaired detect obstacles

Visual impairments make it difficult to get around, particularly in parts of the world where commutes are long and infrastructure is weak. Rohan Paul developed the SmartCane to conquer this particular issue while he was an undergraduate student at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. The SmartCane device attaches to regular walking sticks and uses ultrasonic waves to scan surroundings for impending obstacles and keep the visually impaired safe and aware.

Rohan Paul identified many shortcomings with standard folding canes, including their limitations in detecting obstacles at a distance. Beyond a distance of just over a foot and a half, common folding canes don’t provide any information at all. Furthermore, Paul took issue with fact that folding canes can only alert the user to obstacles located on the ground. Above the knee, standard folding canes are mostly useless in alerting the user to approaching obstacles.

More than ten years in the making, SmartCane boosts the detection distance to almost 10 feet using ultrasonic ranging and vibration patterns built into the device. The attachment sits on top of a regular cane or walking stick, and buzzes in the user’s hand to warn of dangers nearby. The vibrations increase as the user gets nearer to an obstacle to create a more accurate sense of awareness of one’s surroundings.

Through orientation and simple training sessions, SmartCane can empower the blind and visually impaired to move freely and confidently from place to place. The SmartCane costs $50, but since its launch last year almost all of the cost has been subsidized by Indian nonprofit organizations or the national government. More than 10,000 Indian citizens are now using SmartCane devices thanks in large part to these subsidies. Paul has already begun to expand SmartCane distribution to countries like Thailand, Qatar, Iran, Ghana, and Ethiopia.