Goodbye walking stick, hello robot suitcase.

Walking around and making your way around an airport can be difficult with so many gates, doors, and signs. Add to the equation the thousands and thousands of people in a rush trying to get to their destinations. But if you think that’s stressful, it’s not even close to how difficult it can be for visually-impaired and blind people.

In an attempt to make her life, and the life of millions around the world, computer scientist Chieko Asakawa created a smart suitcase that helps her move around an airport and get to her destination safely and in time. 

Chieko Asakawa with a prototype guide suitcase / Photo credit: IBM

When she was only 11 years-old, Asakawa hit her left eye on the side of a swimming pool. Ever since that moment, she started gradually losing her sight, and by the age of 14, she was completely blind. “When I lost my sight, my biggest fear was losing my independence,” Asakawa told CNN.

As a computer scientist working for IBM, she has devoted her career to developing accessibility technology, something that is needed more and more every day. Her job requires her to travel monthly from the US to Japan NS Bxk. Having to spend a big part of her year at airports, she had the idea to develop this innovative suitcase.

It’s packed with multiple cameras and sensors, using very similar technology autonomous cars have. With artificial intelligence, the suitcase maps the environment around it, calculating distances between the user and the place where they’re trying to get to. One only has to use a phone app to program a destination, and the suitcase will plan the route and guide you through vibrations in its handle. Before you know it, you’ll be where you’re meant to be, safely!

Not only that, but the suitcase won’t allow people to miss out on the fun or important parts of traveling. It can notify the user if there’s a friend nearby, or if there are shops and other places of interest near them.

Since 2017, the concept has been in development in a collaboration between IBM and Carnegie Mellon University, where Asakawa teaches at the Robotics Institute. If commercialized, the suitcase would be able to help the mobility of thousands of people, allowing them to feel safer at airports and streets, and be more independent.

“We always have to pay attention to our surrounding world, if there is any step in front of us, or if there is an escalator, elevator,” Asakawa says. “I feel the smart suitcase will completely open up a new world for the visually-impaired people.”

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