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Michigan Students Develop Rfid-Enabled Blind Cane


Central Michigan University students and professor with Smart Cane

Central Michigan University Professor Kumar Yelamarthi (center), with seniors Chris Zeleney (left) and Wil Martin (right), has applied for a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to extend the Smart Cane project with an eye toward commercialization.

Credit: Central Michigan University

The Smart Cane is a prototype device developed by Central Michigan University (CMU) engineering students to help visually-impaired people navigate and avoid obstacles through its incorporation of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and ultrasonic technology. An ultrasonic sensor is mounted near the cane's handle for detecting objects in a user's path, while guidance is controlled by a RFID reader and antenna that the user carries in a messenger bag for detecting RFID tags embedded in the sidewalk. Also in the bag is a microcontroller that links the RFID interrogator, the ultrasonic sensor, a keypad, and the RFID and ultrasonic devices used to guide the user or warn him or her about impediments.

The keypad is used to program a walking route, while the microcontroller tells users what direction to take through an audio speaker mounted on the messenger bag's strap. A glove that vibrates to tactilely relay directions or warn of obstructions is wired to the controller for users who are deaf as well as blind.

The project is about to enter its second phase of design, in which the students will create a self-propelled robot tethered to the user to replace the messenger bag. The machine will roll along the pathway ahead of the user.

CMU professor Kumar Yelamarthi has applied for a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to extend the project past the phase-two design with an eye toward commercialization. He says the long-term vision is "that retailers will offer blind or disabled consumers a way to download directions onto a device" that they can utilize to navigate through a store, using RFID tags and other sensor systems.

From RFID Journal
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