Improving Lives – Digital White Cane

It can be hard to imagine what life would be like if you were blind. The simplest of tasks become much more difficult, and yet those who are blind can lead very full and active lives. However, one of the larger challenges they face, is navigating the hazard-ridden hustle and bustle of outdoors.

The use of a cane to aid those with visual impairments has been around for centuries , but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the more familiar white version came into existence.

The purpose of the White Cane is to enable the user to identify obstacles on the ground, and alert other pedestrians etc., to the fact that they have a visual impairment. The basic design has stood the test of time, but what if we could improve this design by bringing it into the modern era? By adding an Ultrasonic Distance Sensor and a motor with an off-centre mass, we can create a walking aid that picks up on objects before we get close to them and vibrates depending on how close we are to them!

To make our digital version of the White Cane, we are going to combine the Crumble (for our programmable electronics), along with some other design elements, including some 3D printed parts.

As this is more of a proof-of-concept, we are not aiming for a retail-ready design. This is much more of a prototype, enabling us to try out ideas; an important part of any Design and Technology work! We have put together a list of the key features we needed to think about:

We decided on 3D printing a mount for the Ultrasonic, which would also accommodate a ping pong ball to help the cane move freely over surfaces.

The Ultrasonic slots into the mount upside down to allow easy access to the connections, and the cylindrical adapter allows a snug fit with the main body of the cane (PVC pipe).

At the other end of the cane, we wanted an ergonomic handle, so we designed and printed a core, around which we could use polymorph to create a custom grip.

To make the grip, we heated our polymorph using a heat gun (take care – it can get hot!) and then wrapped it around the handle piece and squeezed to get a custom moulding of our grip. Make sure your polymorph isn’t too hot – it will soften the PLA!

Then it was just a case of putting all of the pieces together. We used elastic bands to secure our motor mount and other Crumble components.

Finally, we just needed to program the Crumble to vibrate according to our own requirements. As a start, we got the cane to vibrate when we detected an object that is less than 50cm away.

And there we have it, our Electronic White Cane prototype! You could progress on from here in multiple ways, including, but not limited to: extending the program to make it vibrate at different rates depending on the distance away of an object; building a full-size version and testing it out by using blindfolds etc.; building a self-contained ‘finished’ version.

If you have a go at this project, or any other, we’d love to see! Get in contact with us via email, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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