A new, “virtual cane”—no larger than a conventional flashlight—can assist the blind in estimating the distance and height of various obstacles, as well as help them to identify other objects within their walking proximity.

A demonstration of the new electronic “virtual cane” for the blind, from Yissum Research Development. This device could render the familiar white cane obsolete. Photos: Ohad Zviberg
One day, the device could replace the more cumbersome white cane altogether, according to Yissum Research Development, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The virtual cane emits a focused beam of energy toward surrounding objects and transmits the information to the user via a gentle vibration. This relay system allows the user to reconstruct an accurate depiction of the surrounding obstacles and navigate safely. The virtual cane can function effectively for up to 12 hours before requiring a recharge.

“[This] promising invention can endow the visually impaired people with the freedom to freely navigate in their surroundings without unintentionally bumping into or touching other people, and thus has the potential to significantly enhance their quality of life,” says Yaacov Michlin, chief executive officer of Yissum.