Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi create the 'SmartCane' device to help visually impaired people detect obstacles above-the-knee and from a distance. Helena Williams reports.
Blind since birth, bank worker Rahul Gambhir finds navigating the streets of New Delhi a daily challenge. But with the help of SmartCane, he says that challenge has become a whole lot easier. (SOUNDBITE) VISUALLY IMPAIRED VOLUNTEER RAHUL GAMBHIR, SAYING: "It has added to the comfort level, it has added to the confidence level, it has like added to my experience of like walking on the road, commuting to my work place, to my home, travelling to shopping malls and all. I feel empowered while using it." Invented at the Indian Institute of Technology, SmartCane helps users detect obstacles up to three metres away. It can also spot objects above knee-level, helping avoid the upper body injuries suffered by many traditional cane users. The invention consists of a small device that fits on top of a regular white cane and utilises ultrasound to spot objects. Co-developer Professor Meenakshi Balakrishnan says initial volunteers soon found the SmartCane became almost an extension of themselves. (SOUNDBITE) PROFESSOR MEENAKSHI BALAKRISHNAN, SAYING: "Just as many a blind person would not walk without a white cane, he does not feel comfortable, today we have users who say that, a blind girl from Mumbai who says that my parents allow me to go alone if I have the Smart Cane, not otherwise." The creation, developed by the institute's Assistech lab, is similar to other products on the market, but available for a fraction of the cost, at just 3,000 rupees, or $50. Its low cost could make the device invaluable in developing countries. And Rahul Gambhir says it's helping him get around quicker than ever. SOUNDBITE (English), VISUALLY IMPAIRED VOLUNTEER RAHUL GAMBHIR, 25, SAYING: "My travel time has reduced by say, 25 per cent, earlier if I used to take ten minutes to travel from one place to another, now I cover that distance in 7.5 minutes." The Assitech team want to raise awareness of a product they say could give the world's 39 million blind people an affordable way of staying safe while they walk.