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New SMARTCANE for the blind

11 Jul 2017

Students with disabilities along with staff from the UKZN Disability Support Unit pictured with the developer and distributor of the SmartCaneTM.

UKZN’s Disability Support Services Unit recently hosted a demonstration of the New SmartCaneTM which off ers blind persons the added benefi t of using technology to assist in their accessibility and mobility on and off -campus.

The SmartCaneTM device is a mobility aid for people with visual impairments that fi ts onto a standard white cane and enhances its capabilities. The device allows for the detection of above-knee height obstacles that cannot usually be detected by use of the standard white
cane alone.

It uses ultrasonic sensors for detection and provides information on distance to users through distinctive vibratory patterns. The device is capable of detecting obstacles within three metres in long range mode (outdoors) and 1.8 meters in short range mode (indoors).

The pre-warning about the presence of the obstacles allows for easier avoidance of obstacles and path fi nding. Overall, the eff ective usage of SmartCaneTM device supports the greater independence and safety of visually impaired persons.

UKZN currently has 256 visually-impaired students of which 37 are totally blind and make use of the white Cane to navigate around the University. The Disability Support Unit at UKZN currently supports a signifi cant number of 709 students with diverse disabilities at the institution. These students benefi t from specialised services that attempt to equalise access for all students with disabilities.

The SmartCaneTM technology was demonstrated by co-inventor of the device, Mr Piyush Chanana, who works as a Senior Research Scientist at Assistech Technologies Lab, IIT Delhi. He has signifi cant experience in research, development and dissemination of assistive technology solutions for visually-disabled persons. He is currently pursuing his PhD in the fi eld of travel aids for persons with visual disabilities. Piyush and his research team work on a number of innovative assistive technologies that support access and social inclusion of visually-impaired persons.

The SmartCaneTM is widely used in India and across Asia. Disability Management Services has undertaken to introduce and distribute the SmartCaneTM in South Africa and Africa. The demonstration was attended by blind students at UKZN and staff from the Disability Support Unit at UKZN.

Story by Nevil Balakrishna

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