Negotiating an airport with its labyrinthine corridors, endless escalators and myriad gates is never easy. Now imagine doing it if you were blind.
That's the challenge faced by Chieko Asakawa, a computer scientist and IBM researcher. Asakawa splits her time between the US and Japan, making the journey monthly. If traveling unaccompanied she has to be escorted by airport staff at both ends of the flight, which sometimes involves waiting and denies her autonomy.
Searching for a better alternative led Asakawa to invent a high-tech suitcase that helps get her to her destination safely and efficiently.
Packed with cameras and sensors -- many of the same technologies found in an autonomous car -- the suitcase uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map the environment around it, calculating distances between the user and objects both stationary and mobile. A mobile phone app is used to program a destination into the suitcase, which plans a route and directs the user through vibrations in its handle.