Canes and guide dogs are useful for the blind, to be sure, but they're far from perfect. Enter the next generation of guidance for the blind: the Smart Cane, a cane-like device that senses obstacles and provides navigational tools with RFID technology that is similar to what is used by shopkeepers to stop theft.
The ultrasonic sensor-equipped cane, developed by engineering students at Central Michigan University, is designed to be worn along with a messenger bag equipped with a navigational system. The Smart Cane and the bag work together to detect RFID tags located on small flags sticking out of the ground. A speaker on the bag strap warns users when obstacles are in sight and provides directions, much like a GPS system. Users who are both blind and deaf are given a glove that vibrates different fingertips to provide directions and warnings.
The CMU students successfully tested their system with blind volunteers, and now hope that future generations of engineering students will build on their work. The Smart Cane system is far from ready for commercialization, but one day RFID tags for the blind could become as commonplace as Braille in public places.