San Jose 13-Year-Old Invents Device To Help White Canes “See”

In 1921, according to the history books, an newly-blind Englishman named James Biggs was feeling threatened by the amount of traffic in his neighborhood. In order to be more visible to motorists, Biggs reportedly painted his cane white.

If true, it means the white cane as an aid to the blind is approaching its 100th birthday.

Which explains why, in true Silicon Valley fashion, Raghav Ganesh thought the world was overdue for the white cane, 2.0.

"There's an old device here that needed an upgrade," Raghav says, "and I thought I could make that better."

raghav's cane 1
Raghav Ganesh, a San Jose 13-year-old, has invented a device that enables blind people using canes to detect upcoming obstacles in their path.

The San Jose 13-year-old seems well on his way to making that happen.

Raghav has created a device that attaches to a cane and, using ultrasonic and infrared technology, alerts the user via vibrations to upcoming obstacles. His work has garnered him a growing group of admirers and recently won him a Prudential Spirit of Community Award.


"It's pretty extraordinary for a 13-year-old to develop from scratch a device that is this sophisticated," says Steve Mahan, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Center For The Blind.

Raghav sought out Steve a year ago after throwing together his first prototype of what he now calls SmartWalk. Raghav says he was inspired after watching a documentary about the daily life of the blind and visually impaired.

raghav's cane 3
Ryan Cowen
The SmartWalk uses ultrasonic and infrared technologies to detect upcoming objects, then transmits that information via a vibration to the cane's user.

Meeting monthly for the past year, Steve and clients of the SCVCFTB would test out Raghav's prototypes and suggest improvements or modifications to the design. They also gave Raghav the confidence to continue working on his idea.

"After going to the blind center and seeing people working with it," Raghav says, "I thought 'Wow, I can really make a difference in someone's life.'"

What Raghav would really like to do, though, is help many people's lives.

raghav's cane 4
Ryan Cowen
Raghav says he was inspired to "update" the white cane after watching a documentary about the daily lives of the blind and visually impaired.

Steve says there is a similar, though less-sophisticated, device already on the market at a cost of $900.

Raghav's price point is a quite a bit less. "My prototype cost about $55, but I'm projecting about $20 for the final price.

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