Navigating the world with visual impairments presents inconveniences and safety concerns. Although a traditional white cane is the most commonly used mobility aid due to its low cost and acceptable functionality, electronic traveling aids can provide more functionality as well as additional benefits. The Wearable Virtual Cane Network is an electronic traveling aid that utilizes ultrasound sonar technology to scan the surrounding environment for spatial information. The Wearable Virtual Cane Network is composed of four sensing nodes: one on each of the user's wrists, one on the waist, and one on the ankle. The Wearable Virtual Cane Network employs vibration and sound to communicate object proximity to the user. While conventional navigation devices are typically hand-held and bulky, the hands-free design of our prototype allows the user to perform other tasks while using the Wearable Virtual Cane Network. When the Wearable Virtual Cane Network prototype was tested for distance resolution and range detection limits at various displacements and compared with a traditional white cane, all participants performed significantly above the control bar (p < 4.3 × 10(-5), standard t-test) in distance estimation. Each sensor unit can detect an object with a surface area as small as 1 cm(2) (1 cm × 1 cm) located 70 cm away. Our results showed that the walking speed for an obstacle course was increased by 23% on average when subjects used the Wearable Virtual Cane Network rather than the white cane. The obstacle course experiment also shows that the use of the white cane in combination with the Wearable Virtual Cane Network can significantly improve navigation over using either the white cane or the Wearable Virtual Cane Network alone (p < 0.05, paired t-test).
Keywords: Assistive technology; electronic traveling aid; virtual white cane.
© IMechE 2015.