Smart suitcase could help visually-impaired people to travel safely

People with visual disabilities face problems arising not only from their blindness but also from deficiencies of urban infrastructure in terms of accessibility. Luckily there are canes and guide dogs to lead blind and visually impaired people around obstacles. And perhaps, soon, these aids will soon be complemented with smart suitcases.

The company IBM Japan and four other partners are developing a suitcase-shaped robot that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help people with visual disabilities to travel alone with greater freedom and security.

Chieko Asakawa walks with assistance of a robotic suitcase equipped with AI.
Chieko Asakawa walks with the assistance of a robotic suitcase equipped with AI.

The smart suitcase, which has been inspired by a proposal from Chieko Asakawa, an IBM Japan fellow who has vision problems, is equipped with a sensor, a camera, and a battery to detect obstacles and alert its users through tactile sensation. According to its creators, it will also notify users if friends approach or if there are cafes and other facilities nearby through an audio system.

Giving an interview to a Japanese newspaper, Asakawa said that she got the idea when she was pushing a suitcase in front of her during a business trip. She thought that visually impaired people could walk safely if a suitcase would scan the surroundings for danger.

The company IBM Japan will be responsible for Artificial Intelligence integrated into the suitcase. For its part, Alps Alpine will be responsible for haptic technology, Omron for image recognition and detection techniques, Shimizu for the navigation system, and Mitsubishi Motors for automotive technologies.

The smart suitcase will be used at the airports, shopping centers, and other facilities in indoor areas, and will later be improved so that users can use it in outdoor areas. The device is expected to begin marketing in the fiscal year 2022.

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