Students with disabilities along with staff from the UKZN Disability Support Unit pictured with the developer and distributor of the Smartcane.
UKZN’s Disability Support Services Unit recently hosted a demonstration of the New SmartCane which offers blind persons the added benefit of using technology to assist in their accessibility and mobility on and off-campus.
The SmartCaneTM device, a mobility aid for people with visual impairments, fits onto a standard white cane and enhances its capabilities. The device allows for the detection of above-knee height obstacles that cannot usually be detected by use of the standard white cane alone. It uses ultrasonic sensors for detection and provides information on distance to users through distinctive vibratory patterns. The device is capable of detecting obstacles within three metres in long range mode (outdoors) and 1.8 meters in short range mode (indoors).
The pre-warning about the presence of the obstacles allows for easier avoidance of obstacles and path finding. Overall, the effective usage of SmartCaneTM device supports the greater independence and safety of visually impaired persons.
UKZN currently has 256 visually-impaired students of which 37 are totally blind and make use of the white Cane to navigate around the University. The Disability Support Unit at UKZN currently supports a significant number of 709 students with diverse disabilities at the institution. These students benefit from specialised services that attempt to equalise access for all students with disabilities.
The SmartCane technology was demonstrated by co-inventor of the device, Mr Piyush Chanana, who works as a Senior Research Scientist at Assistech Technologies Lab, IIT Delhi. He has significant experience in research, development and dissemination of assistive technology solutions for visually-disabled persons. He is currently pursuing his PhD in the field of travel aids for persons with visual disabilities. Piyush and his research team work on a number of innovative assistive technologies that support access and social inclusion of visually-impaired persons.
The SmartCane is widely used in India and across Asia. Disability Management Services has undertaken to introduce and distribute the SmartCane in South Africa and Africa.
The demonstration was attended by blind students at UKZN and staff from the Disability Support Unit at UKZN.