I-Cane - an innovative mobility system to help the blind and visually impaired achieve self support

RegioStars 2012 FinalistInnovative technology in the form of an intelligent walking system - or I-Cane - could help the growing population of predominantly elderly people suffering from visual impairment remain socially and economically active.

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In Europe there are 900 000 blind people and approximately 12 million people with significant visual limitations. Worldwide there are approximately 160 million blind and visually impaired people. Many will be able to benefit from highly advanced assistive technology being developed by I-Cane Social Technology in the form of a unique pedestrian guidance device.

The I-Cane combines cutting-edge technology for satellite navigation (integrating data from GPS, Egnos, Glonass and, in future, Galileo) with inertia sensors, algorithms and complementary guidance technology. Built into the cane are various patented system mobility functions. The handle incorporates a tactile arrow which offers an efficient non-verbal and intuitive interface.

Breakthrough in navigation for the blind

The I-Cane helps the pedestrian find a ‘free path’ based on an innovative method of combining sensors, mechatronics and algorithms. The system is able to detect obstacles along the route and provide the user with the information he/she needs to proceed safely. Most of the communication takes place by means of a tactile interface built into the grip of the cane.

The system is seen as a breakthrough in navigation for the blind and visually impaired. Initial tests have been very positive. The use of this intelligent cane can significantly increase the self support, mobility and social participation of people with visual limitations.

The I-Cane initiative started as a foundation created by the social entrepreneur Huub Grooten, funded by non-profit organisations. The company ‘I-Cane Social Technology BV’ was set up in 2008 to further develop the early research activities of the I-Cane Foundation (co-funded by the Province of Limburg, NL).

Affordable for a global audience

Based around state-of-the-art, yet proven, technology the aim of the development is to keep the cost of the I-Cane systems low and affordable for a global audience.

The initiative is supported by a consortium of other small and medium-sized enterprises and cooperative relationships have been established with leading organisations in European countries for the blind and visually impaired. These partnerships are embedded in the project by means of seats in the I-Cane Advisory Council.

The current market response confirms the interest in the I-Cane. Even conservative revenue projections indicate that income in 2013 will be sufficient for the initiative to grow into a sustainable service and product range with several patented spin-offs aimed not just at those with visual limitations. In particular the unique Tactile Arrow (man-machine-interface) offers many opportunities regarding independence and mobility of Alzheimer and Dementia patients, and wheelchair- and walking frame-users.

Market and sector acceptance is in progress in the Netherlands and Belgium, and first user tests have been conducted in other countries. I-Cane will set up national initiatives to tailor the system to the unique requirements of each region. A limited amount of public money may be required to launch each of these initiatives.

Total and EU funding

The project “I-Cane” has a total eligible budget of EUR 692 800 with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 346 400 for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

Draft date