A new electronic travel aid for the visually impaired could offer a major improvement on the white cane, by providing information about obstacles using sound and motion.
Weighing less than 100 grams, the device provides information simultaneously for two directions: directly ahead for far away obstacles, and downwards at an angle of 45 degrees, for an assessment of what’s on the ground. A narrow beam with high spatial resolution is emitted from the device, bounces off obstacles, and returns to the device. Information about obstacles is then conveyed to the user via sound and vibrations. The device was recently written up in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.
“The EyeCane was designed to augment, or possibly in the more distant future, replace the traditional White Cane by adding information at greater distances (5 meters) and more angles, and most importantly by eliminating the need for contacts between the cane and the user’s surroundings [which makes its use difficult] in cluttered or indoor environments,” says EyeCane developer Amir Amedi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Experiments conducted with the EyeCane found that after just five minutes of training, visually impaired and blindfolded users were able to accurately estimate the distance of obstacles 70 percent of the time. Another experiment showed the EyeCane greatly reduced the number of times a visually impaired user made contact with the wall in an unfamiliar corridor, as compared to when they used a traditional white cane.