As I write this, I can hear my mother talking in my head. “Don’t be so hard on them. Be grateful they’re even trying something. Whatever comes out of this will be good.” Ah hell. I’m writing this anyway.
Sebastian Ritzler of the Muthesius Academy of Art and Design in Germany has come up with a design for a wacky new cane that he calls Mygo. I’ll describe it first, and see if anyone else starts thinking the same way I do. It’s a cane with a wheel on the end and motors. Inside it, there is a camera and smart sensor combo that measures ground area and perceives objects there, and I assume some kind of speech synthesizer that sends audio feedback to headphones. It is supposed to be extremely tough, waterproof and height-adjustible. It has six hours of battery life, and is estimated to cost $200. He hopes that it will not only replace canes, but dogs as well.
Ok. Let’s break this down point by point. Look at all the technology packed into a stick that the user will slam into hard things repeatedly, some of us at a high rate of speed. It may be in something that thinks it’s tough, but may change its mind after a few days at the office. I’m sure it’s waterproof, I think they’ve mastered waterproofing. I’m just worried about the tough part. I have never heard of another piece of technology that you’re encouraged to swing around and smack into things. You usually handle technology with care so as not to break it.
And, if it’s tough, and filled with gadgetry, how heavy is it? I know it has motors, but are they in it for the same reason Spike, the 200-pound robot, walks back to his docking station to recharge?
Now, where does the audio feedback go? To headphones. What have I said about headphones before? They obscure sound, and inventors of any navigational system being used by the blind should remember that. Think of my ears as your eyes. Would you slap on big crazy video lens-like things over your eyes that would send you special infrared information while driving, even if it meant obscuring your regular vision? How am I supposed to hear traffic and other things around me if this thing is babbling in my ears? Why not use an external speaker you clip to your shirt?
I really like the height-adjustible part. It would be cool to have a one-size fits all cane, that’s for sure. What I don’t like is the battery life, and the idea of having to recharge my cane. I don’t want to leave my house and find out the battery is low on my cane. It’s my cane! It’s kind of critical! If the battery goes out on a GPS device, that sucks, but you can still navigate. If the battery goes out on this thing, and you’re back to using it like a standard cane, and it’s heavy, you’ll curse it all the way to an electrical outlet. And what kind of batteries does it take? Can you get them anywhere? Or, do you have to send your primary means of navigation in for repairs when the battery finally kicks and you need a replacement?
I guess, for all it does, the price-tag isn’t bad. I just find that price a little high for a cane, especially if it has the potential to get damaged. I’m going to use this thing every day, and the risk just seems too much for me to pay that amount.
And we reach the final point, the one that made me want to rip this guy a new one. He thinks his device is going to replace dogs, and canes, “for the few blind people who still use them.” Hmmm. This leads me to believe that he got 0 input from the blind community, because although there are a lot of us with dogs, there are still a lot of us with canes! And you can never even dream that your device will *replace* other stuff. It will only provide another option. Maybe somebody doesn’t want a dog because he just isn’t a dog fan, but he wants to move faster than he does with his cane and thinks this might do it. There are always people who would prefer their cane and people who do the dog thing. It’s a bit arrogant of him to think his device is going to take over completely.
I really do appreciate people trying to build new technologies to help us. I’m just sceptical of some of the new creations, and I hope that when someone gets a brilliant idea, they consult blind folks for some practical suggestions. Maybe this Mygo thing will take off like mad. I just can’t get excited about it personally.