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Smart white canes for the visually impaired

Inspex is a mobile detection device that can be attached to a white cane to help visually impaired individuals locate obstacles more effectively, in three dimensions. The technologies developed for this project could find applications in many areas, including smart homes, drones and factories of the future.

Published on 15 April 2019

Developed by a European consortium coordinated by the CEA, Inspex is being specially designed for the visually impaired.

Fixed to the user's white cane, Inspex is equipped with sensors that measure the distance between them and any obstacles. It is connected to a smartphone and comes with extra-auricular earphones that provide spatial 3D sound feedback regarding the position of any objects in the user's vicinity. This is known as an Augmented Reality Audio Interface, and is easily interpreted by the user.

Following a short and very simple initiation and a few hours actually using Inspex, the visually impaired person will be able to get around easily, avoiding obstacles without touching them. All thanks to the Augmented Reality Audio Interface », explained Suzanne Lesecq, researcher at CEA-Leti and coordinator of the project.

Creating a safe "bubble"

Inspex creates a virtual safe bubble around the user, enabling them to move about without the stress of bumping into all sorts of obstacles in their path.

The partners are currently at the stage of producing the deliverables - the different component systems - and assembling a prototype which should be ready in the next few months.

The system will be user-friendly and robust, as well as being suitable for use in multiple conditions. The main challenge, however, involves working out how to integrate all these sensors yet keep power consumption reasonably low and make the system as small and lightweight as possible. "We have also decided to develop a unit, rather than a special cane, so that the user can fix it to an object that they already use," explained Suzanne Lesecq.

Innovation drawing on different fields of expertise

The European consortium was set up to bring together experts working in micro-electronics, real-time data merging, 3D audio interfaces, and visual impairment. The team at the CEA specializes in ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology and real-time environment perception techniques originally developed for the smart vehicle sector.


A wide range of applications

In addition to its uses for the visually impaired, the Inspex system could find applications in monitoring systems, distance-measuring systems for drones and robots, assembly machinery used to handle complex parts autonomously, as well as in smart homes and factories.

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