DIY smart cane is self-navigating

October 14, 2021 // By Rich Pell
DIY smart cane is self-navigating
Researchers at Stanford University say they have developed an affordable, DIY open-source robotic cane that guides people with visual impairments safely and efficiently through their environments.

Using tools from autonomous vehicles, the researchers built the augmented cane - which helps people detect and identify obstacles - move easily around those objects, and follow routes both indoors and out. Unlike previous sensor canes, which are either heavy and expensive or limited in their sensing capabilities, the augmented cane incorporates cutting-edge sensors, weighs only three pounds, can be built at home from off-the-shelf parts and open-source software, and costs $400.

The device, say the researchers, will hopefully be an affordable and useful option for the more than 250 million people with impaired vision worldwide.

“We wanted something more user-friendly than just a white cane with sensors,” says Patrick Slade, a graduate research assistant in the Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory and first author of a paper describing the augmented cane. “Something that cannot only tell you there’s an object in your way, but tell you what that object is and then help you navigate around it.”

The augmented cane is equipped with a LIDAR sensor - the laser-based technology used in some self-driving cars and aircraft that measures the distance to nearby obstacles. The cane has additional sensors including GPS, accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyroscopes, like those on a smartphone, that monitor the user’s position, speed, direction, and so forth.

The cane makes decisions using artificial intelligence-based way finding and robotics algorithms like simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) and visual servoing - steering the user toward an object in an image.

“Our lab is based out of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics," says Mykel Kochenderfer, senior author on the study and an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and an expert in aircraft collision-avoidance systems, "and it has been thrilling to take some of the concepts we have been exploring and apply them to assist people with blindness.”

Mounted at the tip of the cane is a motorized, omnidirectional wheel that maintains contact with the ground. This wheel leads

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