The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Intelligent cane to guide the blind

Chennai, Oct. 5: Next time you spot a blind man stopping short at a pothole instead of crashing right into it, watch out for the white cane in his hand: it could well be an 'intelligent' one.

Two computer science students from Tamil Nadu have designed what could be manna for the visually handicapped ' an I-cane (intelligent cane) that will sniff out the stumbling blocks on streets and help them reach their destinations safely.

Fitted with a sensor, a programmed chip and a motor with a wheel, the I-cane would beep if it sensed any 'obstacle' in the way ' a pit, a bump, a curve or even a piece of live wire. Then the attached motor would direct the blind man away from it towards a safer route.

R.C. Aravindakshan and R.S. Bharath, both just under 20 years, are the brains behind the I-cane. Third-year students of Sri Sai Ram Engineering College off west Tambaram, 33 km from Chennai, they have been invited by the Robotic Society of America to display their ware at Robomaxx, a robot competition, in Oregon, starting October 10.

'We are very happy and excited that my son's efforts have succeeded,' said Aravindakshan's mother excitedly. 'Right from childhood, Aravindakshan was moved by the plight of the blind and would keep saying we should do something to help them.'

He began working on the cane with Bharath over a year ago, but 'in the last four months he worked day and night with his friend', his mother said.

Thanks to their college ' which liberally funded the project from the conception to the prototype stage ' and encouragement from principal S. Seetharaman and department head M. Saravanan, the duo managed to build the first model in six months.

'The initial idea came from Aravindakshan who wanted to help the blind, seeing them suffer a lot while travelling in trains and buses,' Bharath, who is not going to Oregon for 'personal reasons', said. Aravindakshan was away at the office of the US consul in Chennai, busy with visa processing formalities.

Speaking on the sprawling campus of the college, which is encircled by hills, Bharath continued: 'Closely observing the blind struggle while navigating roads, he asked me, 'Why not work on a device to make the white cane more intelligent so that the blind do not have to depend on others'

'We were then in the second year and since then we have been working on designing the I-cane.'

The first prototype they built was too heavy, weighing nearly 2 kg. As this would be too unwieldy for a blind person to handle, they went in for lighter components and more powerful sensors on the advice of their teachers, principal Seetharaman said.

They also got valuable tips on the finer technical aspects from two electronics and computer engineering professors of IIT Chennai ' G.T. Manohar and G.T. Ramesh.

The modified prototype Aravindakshan will be carrying to Oregon weighs just less than 600 gm. Most of the lightweight components were sourced from Pune. A Chennai-based electronics firm also helped out.

'After we were almost through, we sent an e-mail to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. He replied that he was very glad and asked us to approach the department of science and technology office in Chennai for any further help,' Bharath said.

The duo has applied for a patent under the Indian patents act. On being selected for Robomaxx, Bharath said: 'We feel really happy. We did not think we would get this type of recognition.'

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