DO WE NEED A SMART CANE?
In the photo below, Kürşat Ceylan navigates down some office stairs using a white cane that has a long control module attached that looks a bit like a stretched, but tapered TV remote control.
He is one in a line of well-meaning entrepreneurs who want to create assistive devices for blind people for improved quality of life. He’s already worked on a navigation tool for shopping centers, and an interface that provides audio descriptions for movies. The difference here is that Kürşat has been blind from birth. His latest project is WeWALK, a new smart cane. It ultrasonically detects overhead obstacles. It also integrates with a user’s smartphone and syncs up with apps such as Google Maps or with Amazon’s Alexa.
Why is creating electronic canes for the blind so hard?
PBS & NPR partner WHYY explores the issues on The Pulse
Daniel Kish, Founder and Lead Instructor of Visioneers | World Access For The Blind has been blind from the age of 13 months and is considered the world’s leading expert on echolocation and it’s integration with Perception Cane instruction that forms the confluence of sonarvision – a way that blind people can train their brain to rewire over time to activate the visual cortex to process echoes of tongue-clicks from the surrounding environment.
In a recent interview with The Pulse on WHYY, the PBS TV, Radio and online affiliate in the greater Philadelphia area, Daniel says “Smart canes ignore the reality that we can provide a kind of cane training that makes the cane basically a natural extension of the body, to where it is fluid and comfortable and, above all, effective.”
As Steph Yin writes in the online feature about this topic: That’s one of Kish’s main gripes with smart canes. He believes that when you start adding batteries, sensors and buttons, you start interfering with all that.
“One of the things that happens, of course, is you make the cane heavier, you change the balance of the cane,” he said.
Furthermore, all of the additional sound and vibratory cues can be distracting. And electronics make a cane more difficult to maintain: You have to charge it; the technology can malfunction; and now the device is susceptible to weather and dirt.
Most importantly, Kish worries that fixating on electronics will shift focus away from building a good foundation in orientation and mobility. He wonders if the resources spent on tech might be better spent on cane training that really nurtures the skills for independence that blind people already have. After all, these are the skills they’ll always be able to fall back on.
That said, you can read comments from our Facebook page below the photo of Daniel walking alongside a duck pond in a Long Beach, California park using a lightweight, full-length Perception Cane. You can also hear all sides of the discussion in the print article and by clicking the “Listen” button under the article headline at its page at WHYY.
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Penny Stevenson Things we do need. Drop off detectors for the fronts of four wheel walking frames, strollers, wheelchairs.
Something that can help keep some of these devices going in a straight line as people using four wheeled walkers in particular don’t have a free hand to trail walls.
Not all people will learn active echolocation. People who have significant hearing loss for example may not be able to use echolocation at all or maybe only in certain environments.
So yes, there may be a use for some aids, whether they should be attached to a cane is another argument again.
Why make a cane heavier, and more awkward to use?
Jayne Hyde-Dryden I write as a consumer who has had a small amount of training from Daniel and as a rehabilitation officer teaching mainly indoor mobility in the North of England.
I think one of the reasons why people want to improve technology to assist blind people to mobilise is because many blind people have not had the opportunity to explore anything other than the traditional cane technique taught which as we all know isn’t the most affective.
However, there is the question of choice and if some find this technology useful, they can be assured that they can process all this information and it works for them that’s fine. I think everyone will agree that combination of cane and or dog use of flash Sonar and a good navigation app on a phone has greatly improved the ability of blind people to be able to travel with better knowledge of their surroundings.
However, there is nothing that a smart cane can do that can’t be done using this combination. The other safety issue which has been identified with some of the smart canes is the closer the person travels to the object the more scrambled the signal becomes and sometimes it disappears completely. This as I recall was one of the faults with the ultra cane. Which leads me on to my next and final point of grip of the cane.
There are so many advantages of using the lighter cane and the modified open palm grip taught by Daniel and his team. This might be impossible to achieve with a smart cane as the user may have to hold it in a more fixed position. For those of us with small hands and fingers this is a real issue.
This is my take on it what do others think.
Deanna Sheard It’s very cool, I think the echo location is amazing and we should be teaching it to the kids at the school.
Chris Sammons Your method obviously works the best for you. Not everyone can hone their skills to the level you have. I say innovation is welcome if it helps those in need. 👍
Feliciano Godoy A smart Cain is like having sighted guide. You’re getting to the destination however you have no idea how you got there. With human brain, you can identify objects and create landmarks to get to where you want to be. Through the process, you find other avenues to get to new places. Just my .02 👍 ☺️
Ed Piotrowski A good foundation in cane travel is necessary before any electronics are added. I have been an O&M for 35 years and have always found this to be true. But with technological advances anything is possible.