A consortium of five companies including IBM Japan Ltd. said Thursday that they will develop a navigation suitcase equipped with artificial intelligence to help guide people with visual impairments.

The suitcase will be mounted with cameras and sensors and will be capable of moving on its own. The product will guide the user to a destination in an indoor environment while detecting and avoiding obstacles. In addition to navigating routes, a feature to detect and notify users of approaching acquaintances is also being considered.

The other consortium members are general contractor Shimizu Corp., control system manufacturer Omron Corp., electronic parts maker Alps Alpine Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The companies will pool their expertise in image recognition, positioning and speech dialogue technologies to develop the product.

The project was inspired by Chieko Asakawa, a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States who is also a fellow at IBM. Asakawa is visually impaired.

The consortium will test the suitcase at Japanese shopping facilities from June. It plans to identify issues and make the devices installed on the suitcase smaller and lighter over a three-year period. It has yet to decide when to make the product commercially available.

The technology used in the suitcase is expected to be applicable to other products as well, such as shopping carts and wheelchairs.

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