A new invention by Hebrew University scientists could make life easier for millions of visually impaired people around the world. The innovative device is a cane that helps with spatial navigation and orientation.
Unlike the traditional white cane used by the blind, this new cane works as a ‘virtual flashlight’ and allows the blind person to assess the height and distance of various objects around them.
It’s small in size but huge in terms of what it could mean for the world’s blind population. With almost 200 million visually impaired people globally, and 40 million of which are legally blind, this Israeli-made device could bring a halt to difficulties in orientation and navigation.
The cane was developed by Hebrew University’s Dr. Amir Amedi, of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), and his research team. It was recently exhibited at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem as part of a larger exhibition presented by Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Dr. Amedi’s promising invention can endow visually impaired people with the freedom to freely navigate in their surroundings without unintentionally bumping into or touching other people and thus has the potential to significantly enhance their quality of life,” said Yaacov Michlin, CEO of Yissum.
The virtual cane emits a focused beam towards surrounding objects, and transmits the information to the user via a gentle vibration. The cane incorporates several sensors that estimate the distance between the user and the object it is pointed at. This allows the blind person to reconstruct an accurate image of the surroundings and navigate safely. The virtual cane is easy to carry, can function for up to 12 hours and is easy to charge.
And though fanciful ideas went into making this cane, the device is highly intuitive and can be learnt within just a few minutes.