Department of Family Services – Older Adults

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

TTY 711

12011 Government Center Parkway, Suite 708
Fairfax, VA 22035

Trina Mayhan-Webb,

Robotic “White Cane” Offers New Ways to Navigate

Article from Disability Rights and Resources, Department of Family Services

(Posted 2021 December)

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An innovative “white cane” can assist blind and visually impaired users in navigating inside buildings and avoiding obstacles. The improved robotic cane now has a 3D camera, on-board computer, and an inertial measurement sensor. When the device has a building’s architectural drawing, it can map the user’s precise location to the existing architectural drawing or floor plan and accurately guide users to their chosen location. The cane provides both auditory and sensory cues. In addition, it concurrently helps users avoid running into things like chairs, cabinets, boxes, and overhangs. The cane has ability to easily switch between its “automated mode” and a simpler, non-robotic “white cane mode.”

person demonstrating "white cane" robotic useThe National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering co-funded the development of the device. Cang Ye, Ph.D., and colleagues added the color depth camera so its infrared light, along with the system, could determine the distance between the cane and other objects. This corrected an issue with earlier versions which could guide users to their destination.

However, if used for long distances, the inaccuracies in the user’s location could mount, eventually leaving the user at an incorrect location.

A few flaws are being worked out before it’s market-ready. However, this could be a useful tool in helping provide independence for the blind and visually impaired. Learn more at

This article is part of the Golden Gazette monthly newsletter which covers a variety of topics and community news concerning older adults and caregivers in Fairfax County. Are you new to the Golden Gazette? Don’t miss out on future newsletters! Subscribe to get the electronic or free printed version mailed to you. Have a suggestion for a topic? Share it in an email or call 703-324-GOLD (4653).

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