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.

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A Virtual Cane For The Visually Impaired

[Roman] has created an electronic cane for the visually impaired. Blind and visually impaired people have used canes and walking sticks for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 1920’s and 1930’s that the white cane came to be synonymous with the blind. [Roman] is attempting to improve on the white cane design by bringing modern electronics to the table. With a mixture of hardware and clever software running on an Android smartphone, [Roman] has created a device that could help a blind person navigate.

The white cane has been replaced with a virtual cane, consisting of a 3D printed black cylinder. The cane is controlled by an ATmega328 running the Arduino bootloader and [Roman’s] code. Peeking out from the end of the handle is a Maxbotix ultrasonic distance sensor. Distance information is reported to the user via a piezo buzzer and a vibration motor. An induction coil allows for charging without fumbling for tiny connectors. A Bluetooth module connects the virtual cane to the other half of the system, an Android phone.

[Roman’s] Android app runs solely on voice prompts and speech syntheses. Navigation commands such as “Take me to <address>” use the phone’s GPS and Google Maps API to retrieve route information. [Roman’s] app then speaks the directions for the user to follow. Help can be summoned by simply stating “Send <contact name> my current location.” In the event that the user drops their virtual cane, “Find my device” will send a Bluetooth command to the cane. Once the command is received, the cane will reveal its position by beeping and vibrating.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Using technology to help disabled people is one of the best hacks we can think of. Hackaday alum [Caleb Kraft] has been doing just that with his work at The Controller Project. [Roman] is still actively improving his cane. He’s already won a gold medal at the Niagara Regional Science and Engineering Fair. He’s entered his project in several more science events, including the Canada Wide Science Fair and the Google Science Fair. Good luck [Roman]!