MIT Postdoc from India Innovates for the Visually Impaired
Dr. Rohan Paul, a computer science graduate of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, a Rhodes scholar in Oxford where he received a Ph.D.in mobile robotics, and a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Labs, has changed the life of thousands of visually impaired people in India by his innovative SmartCane.
The SmartCane has its genesis as a student project at IIT Delhi when Paul decided he wanted to create an affordable obstacle detection system for blind people. He began by simply asking them what they needed, which was safety, affordability and ease of use, reports The Wall Street Journal.
After returning from Oxford he began refining the device. Describing it, Paul says, “It is a sleek handle-shaped attachment which fits on the traditional white cane the visually challenged already carry. It sends out vibrations of different kinds to alert the users.”
The device costs $50 whereas comparable devices globally cost upwards of $1,000. Additionally, while the traditional white cane can detect only low hanging objects from a distance of 1.6 feet, the SmartCane can detect both low and above-knee-level objects from a distance of 9.8 feet.
Paul adds, “When we tested it in 2012 we saw users had 95 percent fewer collisions. We released it as a product in early 2014. The SmartCane is already in the hands of about 10,000 people. Our aim is to help one million or more worldwide.
It is a ‘people’s product’—a humble tribute to the Mahatma, who inspired innovators to harness science and technology for the masses.”
The device is manufactured and distributed through a partnership of three entities: the Saksham Trust, a Delhi-based nonprofit, manufacturer Phoenix Medical Systems and the Indian Institute of Technology, where Dr. Paul co-founded the Assistive Technologies Laboratory.
Rohan Paul has the honor of being one of MIT Technology Review’s Innovator Under-35 for 2015.