The Augmented Cane helps people with impaired vision navigate by using sensors to understand the environment and feedback modes to help guide and inform the user.
The Augmented Cane uses its variety of sensors to overcome the challenges of helping a person with impaired vision navigate different challenges. The LIDAR measures distances to obstacles, the inertial measurement unit (IMU) provides orientation estimates, the GPS measures outdoor position, and the camera takes images.
Globally, more than 250 million people have impaired vision and face challenges navigating outside their homes, affecting their independence, mental health, and physical health. Navigating unfamiliar routes is challenging for people with impaired vision because it may require avoiding obstacles, recognizing objects, and wayfinding indoors and outdoors. Existing approaches such as white canes, guide dogs, and electronic travel aids only tackle some of these challenges. Here, we present the Augmented Cane, a white cane with a comprehensive set of sensors and an intuitive feedback method to steer the user, which addresses navigation challenges and improves mobility for people with impaired vision. We compared the Augmented Cane with a white cane by having sighted and visually impaired participants complete navigation challenges while blindfolded: walking along hallways, avoiding obstacles, and following outdoor waypoints. Across all experiments, the Augmented Cane increased the walking speed for participants with impaired vision by 18 ± 7% and sighted participants by 35 ± 12% compared with a white cane. The increase in walking speed may be due to accurate steering assistance, reduced cognitive load, fewer contacts with the environment, and higher participant confidence. We also demonstrate advanced navigation capabilities of the Augmented Cane: indoor wayfinding, recognizing and steering the participant to a key object, and navigating a sequence of indoor and outdoor challenges. The open-source and low-cost design of the Augmented Cane provides a platform that may improve the mobility and quality of life of people with impaired vision.