We've already seen experimental "white canes" that allow blind users to get a sense of their surroundings via ultrasound and lasers. Birmingham City University's XploR mobility cane, however, uses its onboard electronics towards another end – to help users locate people that they know.

The XploR was developed by Information and Communications Technology students Steve Adigbo, Waheed Rafiq and Richard Howlett.

It draws upon a database of facial photos of people known to the user, which is stored on an internal SD card. Using those face shots and a facial recognition system, the cane can identify known faces from a distance of up to 10 meters (33 ft).

When someone familiar is spotted, it lets the user know by vibrating. With some help from a built-in GPS navigation system, it then guides the user over to that person, delivering verbal directions through a Bluetooth earpiece – presumably it also lets the user know who that person is.

Its electronic components are reportedly nothing particularly expensive or exotic, being described simply as "smartphone technology."

The students now plan on testing the cane at the UK's Beacon Centre for the Blind, and ultimately hope to market it.