Dhruv Jain


Knee-above obstacle detection for the visually impaired

(Supported by 'Wellcome Trust', under 'Affordable healthcare in India' initiative)


There are numerous constraints that visually challenged people face in independent mobility and navigation. They primarily use the white cane as a mobility aid allowing them to only detect close by obstacles on the ground. Also, the detection of objects above knee height is almost impossible and is a major hindrance for them. We have developed a detachable unit which acts to augment the functionality of the existing white cane, to allow knee-above obstacle detection. This unit consists of an ultrasonic ranger to detect obstacles and a vibrator to convey the distance information to user. The frequency of vibration indicates the proximity of obstacles. This low-cost device has undergone series of multi-centric user trials and translational research and is due for a public release in March 2014.

Smartcane was incepted way back in 2006 by my dear seniors Rohan Paul and Dheeraj Mehra. They continued working on it even when they were doing their PhD and job respectively. They got support from Wellcome Trust, UK in 2010 and started the translational research with Phoenix Medical Systems (industrial partner) and Saksham Trust (welfare organization for the blind). I joined the project in 2012 as a volunteer for conducting user studies in Delhi. I volunteered for experimental setup, observation and interviews in 2 user studies (3-4hr/day, 2 weeks total) in Delhi during Fall 2012 and provided feedbacks to the technical team at Phoenix Medical Systems. After taking a short course on qualitative research methods in December 2012 by Aanchal Jain, Univ. of Cambridge, I along with Supriya Das designed an A-B type qualitative study to evaluate the device with 100 users in 4 rural and 4 urban sites for visually impaired in India. We have collected feedback from 30 users in Delhi, 15 users in Ahmedabad, 10 users in Mumbai, 20 users in Dehradun and 10 users in Bangalore so far. I observed and interviewed 22 visually impaired candidates about their experience on using the smartcane. Feedbacks have been very positive and encouraging. Captivated by the utility, some of the users were hesitant to return the device to us for further trials and we had to force them! Jointly with our partners, the device is due for a public release in India in March 2014.

Development stages of Roshni modules

Figure 1: Close up of the Smartcane attachment

Development stages of Roshni modules

Figure 2: Snapshots of users navigating with Smartcane

Multi-centric user studies with Smartcane

Figure 3: Multi-centric user studies with Smartcane. (Left to Right) Trials at (a)Dehradun, (b)Mumbai, (c)Ahmedabad and (d)Delhi.
The rightmost image shows the demonstration to the President of India at Delhi.

Vaibhav Singh, Rohan Paul, Dheeraj Mehra and 10 others, "Smart cane for the visually impaired: Design and controlled field testing of an affordable obstacle detection system". In 12th International Conference on "Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons", 2010. (Download Pdf)

M Balakrishnan, Kolin Paul, Ankush Garg and 7 others, "Cane Mounted Knee-above Obstacle Detection and Warning System for the visually impaired". In 3rd ASME/IEEE International Conference on Mechatronics and Embedded Systems and Applications, 2007. (Download Pdf)

Rohan Paul, Ankush Garg, Vaibhav Singh, and 3 others. "Smart-Cane for the Visually Impaired: Technological Solutions for Detecting Knee-Above Obstacles and Accessing Public Buses". In 11th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons, 2007. (Download Pdf)

Prof. Balakrishnan and Prof. P.V.M. Rao, mentors of the project, were awarded the 2005 VASVIK Industrial Research Award, 2008 [National Award]

Innovative Student Project Award, Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE), 2008 [National Award]

Best Industry Relevant Research, Forum for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT), IIT Delhi, 2008.

Technology Development and Initiation Award (TDP-IAS) by Industrial R&D unit at IIT Delhi, 2007. Research Grant of Rs 150,000/-