Scientists Create AI-Powered Stick That Could Help Blind People Shop

Engineers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have developed a helpful new stick for people who are blind or visually impaired - one that uses artificial intelligence (AI). The researchers say that their “smart” walking stick could one day help blind people navigate tasks in a world designed for sighted people from shopping for a box of cereal or finding a place to sit in a crowded cafeteria. The team’s walking stick resembles existing canes for the visually impaired. However, it also includes a few add-ons: Using a camera and computer vision technology, the walking stick maps and catalogs the world around it. It then guides users by using vibrations in the handle and with spoken directions, such as “reach a little bit to your right.”. In a study, blindfolded subjects were able to find the right chair in a crowded room with obstacles in 10 out of 12 trials with varying levels of difficulty. The team also tested their stick with a grocery shelf stocked with several different kinds of cereal. Study subjects then used the walking stick to scan the shelf, searching for the product they wanted. They hope their preliminary results will inspire other engineers to rethink what robotics and AI are capable of in terms of helping those with disabilities.