Engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder are developing a walking stick for blind or visually impaired people with the help of artificial intelligence.

Researchers claim that the “smart” walking stick is designed to help blind people navigate everyday tasks — getting groceries or finding a place to sit.

“I really enjoy grocery shopping and spend a significant amount of time in the store,” said Shivendra Agrawal, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, according to a news release.  “A lot of people can’t do that, however, and it can be really restrictive. We think this is a solvable problem.”

The “smart” stick allows users to deploy a camera, computer vision technology and navigation tools like maps. It is able to guide users through vibrations in the handle and with audio directions.

Agrawal and his colleagues conducted a study which was published last year at IROS 2022 that allowed them to set up their lab as a cafe with a few chairs, patrols and a few obstacles. Participants in the study blindfolded themselves and then used the walking stick to find a specific chair in the room.

Participants were able to find the chair 10 out of 12 times. Researchers plan to improve the walking stick by working with people who are blind, once they determine their device is “more dependable,” according to the release.

In another research project, which is yet to be published, Agrawal and his colleagues tested their device for an everyday task — getting products in aisles. The team set up a “grocery shelf stocked with several different kinds of cereal,” according to the release. Then, researchers were able to create a database of product photos into their software. Participants utilized the walking stick to scan and search for the specific product they wanted.

“Our aim is to make this technology mature but also attract other researchers into this field of assistive robotics,” Agrawal said. “We think assistive robotics has the potential to change the world.”

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Shubhashika Singh
2023-01-22 17:00:04
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