White cane with space-proven sensor helps the visually impaired
At the end of October, the Brno-based company Svarovsky, s.r.o. completed a project of a white cane upgraded with an electronic sensor enabling monitoring of the nearby surroundings. The innovation is also the first project supported by the ESA Spark Funding CZ programme for the use of space technologies in Earth-based applications.
Svarovsky, s.r.o. has successfully integrated the Single Photon Avalenche Diodes (SPAD) technology into the handle of the white cane, which allows to emit a photon and measure the time of its reflection from an obstacle. The signal is converted into a vibration of the cane handle and the user receives information about obstacles even outside the physical range of the cane. The technology was originally used in the Czech ELT (European Laser Timing) project, which was part of the international ACES (Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space) experiment. This experiment, dealing with time synchronisation on board the International Space Station (ISS), used a SPAD sensor to capture a laser signal sent from the ground station. With the ability to very accurately record the time of photon impact, the technology allowed for very precise control of the on-board clock and coordination with the ground center.
The new use of SPAD technology in the white cane improves the orientation capabilities of the visually impaired and is a good example of the socio-economic potential of transferring space research results to technological applications on Earth.