Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Smart Cane for the Blind

Engineers from The University of Melbourne have developed a prototype device for the visually impaired that uses lasers and a camera to identify non-protruding obstacles such as kerbs, potholes, descending stairs and dips in the pavement. The prototype can be attached to a cane, walking frame or wheelchair.

The idea for the device arose after A/Prof Elaine Wong’s now 9-year-old child was born with congenital blindness. She contacted Vision Australia and offered her skills as an engineer in the hope she could help improve the independence and safety of the vision-impaired. “I wanted to do something tangible, that could have a real impact. Maintaining people’s quality of life cannot be underestimated,” she says.

The team’s next step is to miniaturise the prototype and refine the lasers so they work under all lighting conditions. They also aim to make the final device as cheap, portable and user-friendly as possible for the 360,000 vision-impaired people in Australia and the 285 million worldwide.

“While the real-time navigation and safety gains are obvious, there are also clear social benefits in helping vision-impaired people continue their social interaction, ensure they stay healthy as they get older, and develop confidence and skills in getting around,” Wong says.