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Extending the Reach of the White Cane for Blind Wheelchair Users

Approximately one in ten blind persons uses a wheelchair, and independent travel is extremely difficult for this population. With funding from the NSF, the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute has developed a prototype computer vision system at that allows a visually impaired wheelchair rider to "interrogate" the environment using a standard white cane to detect important terrain features such as obstacles and curbs. This system allows the user to interrogate the environment by sweeping a standard (unmodified) white cane (which a visually impaired rider is already likely to be using) back and forth, from left to right. Using a pair of video cameras mounted on the wheelchair facing the path ahead, the system continuously tracks the cane location and sounds an audio alert if a terrain feature is detected in the direction the cane is pointing. Thus, the user interface extends the reach of the white cane in a seamless and intuitive way while permitting normal use of the cane.

James M. Coughlan, Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute

Agencies/Institutions (that have supported the research):
NSF, Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Foundation


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