Smart Cane Could Help Blind ID Faces




This is Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm Larry Greenemeier. Got a minute?
Foldable white canes help the visually impaired navigate their surroundings.
But the guide stick's tactile nature offers only so much information.
The cane's user must manually find and avoid obstructions.
But new high-tech canes are on the horizon.
Last year researchers in India tried to fill in some of the missing info with their experimental SmartCane.
The device uses an attached ultrasonic transmitter and a sensor that vibrates the cane to warn its users when an obstacle is within three meters.
Students at the U.K.'s Birmingham City University are developing a cane that can even identify acquaintances as they approach.
Called the 'XploR' mobility cane, it includes an embedded digital camera that analyzes the faces of people walking by and compares their images against a database stored on a memory card in the cane's handle.
If there's a facial recognition match, the cane alerts the user's smartphone via Bluetooth.
The phone then identifies the approaching person to the user via its speaker or earbuds.
The students are building a prototype they'll test later this year.
The hurdles are significant: facial recognition is a tough problem, especially outdoors.
But if the XploR works, it could actually give the visually impaired a leg up on everyone else, especially those of us who never remember people's names.
Thanks for the minute, for Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm Larry Greenemeier.