Omni-Wheeled Cane Steers The Visually-Impaired Away From Obstacles

Sure, there are smart canes out there, commercial and otherwise. We’ve seen more than a few over the years. But a group of students at Stanford University have managed to bring something novel to the augmented cane.

The details of an augmented cane for the visually impaired that features an omni wheel to steer them away from obstacles.Theirs features a motorized omni wheel that sweeps smoothly from left to right during normal cane operation, and when the cane senses an object that turns out to be an obstacle, the omni wheel goes into active mode, pulling the user out of the path of danger.

Tied for best part of this build is the fact that they made the project with open hardware and published all the gory details in a repo, so anyone can replicate it for about $400.

The cane uses a Raspi 4 with camera to detect objects, and a 2-D LIDAR to measure the distance to those objects. There’s a GPS and a 9-DOF IMU to find the position and orientation of the user. Their paper is open, too, and it comes with a BOM and build instructions. Be sure to check it out in action after the break.

There’s more than one way to guide people around with haptic feedback. Here’s the smartest pair of shoes we’ve seen lately.


21 thoughts on “Omni-Wheeled Cane Steers The Visually-Impaired Away From Obstacles

  1. This is not how a cane is used. Cane has rotational symmetry. No need to hold it in any particular orientation. No batteries.
    Just pick it up and use it. No need to hold it any special way during use. Canes are not dragged along the ground. The tip would wear out immediately. You tap them. Swing side-to-side and tap. Rolling a small diameter ball on the ground, it will get stuck in cracks, jam up against curbs or other minor deviations. OK on seamless asphalt but almost no other surface. Gravel? No. Grass? No. Carpet? No. Concrete with expansion joints? No. What about rain and snow? If you can’t tap the cane you lose the ability to sense the surface type by feel and sound. 18 percent improvement in speed. 99% reduction in overall utility. Another attempt to turn a $20 cane into a $500 cane while making it far less useful overall.

    1. Yeah, it looks like a feat of engineering but I doubt any users of normal canes for the blind were involved in the development process.
      [article]> Sure, there are smart canes out there, commercial and otherwise. We’ve seen more than a few over the years.
      There are? I’ve never seen or heard of one and don’t remember reading about them here either (neither?).

      1. Yes, there are ‘smart’ canes. None have been a commercial success. Same reason as this one. They did use a normal cane for development. That’s what this contraption is bolted onto,

        The art of making things better without making them worse. Lets make a better fork. Too pointy. Dangerous. Hard to make. We’ll make it round. Get rid of the pointy things. Make it out of rubber. Make it battery powered and bluetooth enabled. Wonderful innovation. Minor problem – it no longer does anything useful. Too bad, it was a great concept. Or, maybe not. These people are engineering students at Stanford? They need some serious revision to their admission criteria and curriculum.

      2. Except there were blind folks involved in the development. One on the team, in fact, who said hi liked it.

        They also tested the device on blindfolded sighted and blind people. Unsurprisingly, it improved walking speeds for the blindfolded more than for the blind, but everyone got a boost out of it.

        You posted poopy comments without even watching through the video?

    2. That’s not quite true, there are different types of canes for the visually impaired. I know quite a few visually impaired people, and several use a cane with (replacable) a rolling ball at the end, that is moved back and forth exactly like in this video.

      I don’t know if this would work well in practice, it looks like a significant weight on the cane. Also, for GPS navigation, you need to input the destination somehow, and I can only assume that’s done with a smartphone. Most younger visually impaired people I know (several of which are completely blind) are surprisingly good at using smartphones, but some others are not. It’s hard to type on a touchscreen if you can’t see anything.

    1. i can see so i’m basically ignorant, but that’s my thought as well. it doesn’t need to be directly integrated into the nervous system, but it should be so direct that it feels like it is. i can’t believe blind people would want a cane that makes decisions for them, but one that gives them more sensation would be a win. ultrasonic or lidar sensors feeding raw data (not processed! not obstacle recognized!) into an audio feedback or a vibrator grid mounted somewhere inconspicuous. let the human intuition do the part it’s good at. if LIDAR is glitchy in grass then send the human a glitchy signal and they’ll recognize the different textures of glitch. you don’t gain anything adding a pattern recognizer / neural net to a human — we already do that part.

  2. Wow. Not a single positive comment yet? Yes, it’s probably impractical in the real world. But they’re trying. And as for questioning their right to be at Stanford? Guys – it’s an engineering project! There are numerous challenges involved that I think were handled well. I’m sure that was the point to begin with; give them an interesting “real world” challenge instead of a boring lab exercise. Maybe they got carried away with the idea of seriously using it in a real environment, but they obviously learned a few things, which is kind of the point of collage, is it not?

    1. If it was a real engineering project, they should have started it with analyzing the needs.
      In this case was obviously zero research done beforehand. They ignored the biggest obstacle: nobody needs such a cane, because a real one is so much more useful. Degrading well refined useful object into a clumsy, unusable item is not engineering, it´s the opposite.

    2. I don’t want to be too mean (I was in senior design not to long ago myself!), but they really did miss the point of engineering. As a gadget it is fine, but they forgot the first step of any proper engineering project: get with your customer and figure out reqs and specs! If they just took the time to actually talk to someone who is visually impaired, they would have had a chance of creating a solution instead of a gadget.

      1. There was a similar posting here within the last few months. And the comments were similar, includiing from people using a cane or with familiaritywith the topic.

        Someone described how well the cane worked, so any improvement had to be on that.

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