Suitcase uses AI to help blind people manoeuvre safely

The AI suitcase is an example of how technology can help improve the lives of people with disabilities

Dr Chieko Asakawa (left) and the AI-powered suitcase.
The next phase of the AI-powered suitcase is to navigate in crowded environments. (Photo credits: National Inventors Hall of Fame)

A blind researcher in Japan is using her expertise to develop a suitcase that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help the visually impaired to get to their destinations safely.

Dr. Chieko Asakawa, 64, who is also the chief executive director of the Japanese National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, came up with the idea when her luggage hit a wall at an airport.

She realised that suitcases could be used as a tool to detect obstacles, and developed the idea of a suitcase being used as navigating device in 2017.

Asakawa then worked with several companies, as well as universities and other organisations, to make the prototype, which operates at a walking speed of an adult, and is equipped with sensors that detect obstacles or people nearby.

The suitcase also has voice guidance on the location and its surroundings, providing direction to its user.

One of the next steps for the prototype will be getting it to work in crowded environments. The ultimate goal is to make it possible for blind people using the AI suitcase to move around just as safely and smoothly as fully sighted people.

State-of-the-art devices

Asakawa lost her eyesight at 14 after sustaining an accident in her elementary school. But her disability did not deter her from reaching her fullest potential. After earning a degree from her university, she joined the research and development division of IBM Japan Ltd. in Tokyo in 1985.

At IBM, Asakawa develops state-of-the-art devices that help blind people such as a Japanese digital Braille system and a voice-enabled internet browser.

Asakawa said that science and technology can be utilised in order to bridge the “gap between people with disabilities and those without.”

“I hope to use the AI suitcase to travel by myself so I can visit friends around the world,” Asakawa said in a report by The Japan News.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and lifestyle writer who focuses on politics, the economy, and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates.

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