This afternoon has been a triumphant one. The smart cane, which I have been testing for a while has been launched! The smart cane is a regular cane but with an attachment that provides tactile feedback as you approach an obstacle.
It uses sonar for measuring distances. The motor’s speed increases as you approach an object so the vibration you feel in the handle of the cane is increased. Different distances are represented by different vibratory patterns.
The cane has 2 modes namely indoor and outdoor. in the indoor mode, obstacles are detected at a range of 1.5 meters while in the outdoor mode, obstacles at a range of 3 meters are detected.
My favorite feature is the collision detector. The cane will warn you with a distinctive beep if someone is going to collide with you.
The cane is rugged and has been designed to take tropical conditions into account. I have dropped it down a flight of stairs a few times.
The price in Indian Rupees is about Rs. 2500.
The cane is inclusive because it does not require any supporting infrastructure. There is no need to add anything to the environment so the device can go directly to the user.
The smart cane however represents something else in Indian disability history. It is probably the first project that has fructified industry, academic and NGO collaboration. Over 30 NGOs have been consulted. My thanks to all of them and all my fellow testers.
My special thanks to Phoenix Medical systems, the industry partner for their expertise.
For international readers, the cane will get the CE mark within a week from today.
Also, thanks to the Welcome Trust who funded the development effort and guided the team. Thanks to the professors and staff at IIT Delhi. In particular, the project lead Dr. Rohan Paul who besides being a scientist, humanitarian is a fantastic project manager.
Thanks to Dipendra Manocha a continuing inspiration for many of us. It was his idea, his hand at the helm that began the journey in 2005.
What the smart cane can’t do
- It cannot tell you what the obstacle is. A dustbin and a person produce the same vibratory patterns.
- It is difficult to detect below knee obstacles. The cane is designed for detecting above knee obstacles but you can adjust the angle of the sonic transducers and pickup below knee obstacles if you hold at the correct angle
- The sonar attachment cannot be mounted on any other cane though you can use it without the cane. I understand this is something that is being worked upon.
- You get no texture information.
The road ahead
Much work still has to be done in getting this device out to the poorest sections of Indian society. These portions are sparsely served by NGOs.
It would be easy to combine the cane with sensory substitution devices. There may not be any need for modification because the signals will be combined in the brain. I am going to test the cane with The vOICe.
Contact the Saksham Trust for more information.