There's been some exciting developments for the future of the cane in recent months. Three ventures in three different countries have been working on how to bring the traditional cane into the modern era and make use of mobile technology.
These products are still relatively new to the market, but they can still give us an idea of what the canes of the future will be able to do.
When computer scientist Rohan Paul was an undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, he started thinking about what technical innovation could have a big social impact on the world. This led him to start a discussion with blind and partially sighted people about the limitations of the traditional cane.
The cane users told Rohan about the difficulty of navigating around obstacles above knee level. So his team went away and responded by making a cane that uses sensors to detect objects at a distance of three metres. It then sends a vibration to a certain part of the cane handle, letting the person holding the cane know where the obstacle is.
Rohan gave a TED talk about how his team developed the SmartCane, which you can view in the video below.
A similar process happened in France when the technology company Cisco held a competition for entrepreneurs to apply technology solutions to social and environmental problems.
Lucie d’Alguerre, Florian Esteves and Mathieu Chevalier came up with the idea to apply the concept of the “internet of things” to the cane. Essentially, this means linking up the cane to different mobile technologies so as to make the device smarter.
The Handisco uses ultra-sonic waves to detect obstacles around the cane user. But not only that, it also has the capability to use geolocation to find out exactly where you are. It can then find public transport information and navigate its user to their destination using all this information.
This news report from America’s PBS Newshour explains more about how the Handisco was developed
Meanwhile in the UK, students from Birmingham City University have developed a cane with an interesting functionality. Steve Adigbo, Waheed Rafiq and Richard Howlett used technology from a smartphone to assemble a cane that will recognize familiar faces from 10 metres away.
The device stores the faces of people the user knows in its memory bank. When it matches those stored faces to someone within scanning distance of the cane, it lets the user know through an audio earpiece who is approaching them.
All these examples have taken technology that you can find in any regular smartphone and then adapted them to needs of blind and partially sighted people. After decades of very little innovation, the hope now is that the canes in the future will be far more useful, intelligent and connected to the internet.