Robots: Scientists develop four-legged guide dog bot that can lead blind people around obstacles
A four-legged, robotic guide dog system that can safely lead blind people around obstacles and through narrow passages has been developed by US researchers.
Just like a real assistance canine, the bot guides its user by means of a leash — which it can pull taut but also allow to go slack in order to better lead around tight turns.
The setup — built on a robot design called a mini cheetah — features a laser-ranging system to map out its surroundings and a camera to track the human it is guiding.
Given an end point to reach, the machine maps out a simple route, adapting its course as it progresses to accommodate obstacles and the handler’s movements.
The robot has the potential to cut down on the time and expense of training guide dogs — although, they would lack the mental and social benefits of a real animal.
Scroll down for video
A four-legged, robotic guide dog system (pictured) that can safely lead blind people around obstacles and through narrow passages has been developed by US experts
The setup — built on a design called a mini cheetah — features a laser-ranging system to map out its surroundings and a camera to track the human it is guiding
According to lead researcher and roboticist Zhongyu Li of the University of California, Berkeley, the training of mechanical guide dogs would be scalable.
‘Using a robotic guide dog, we can directly deploy our code from one robot to another,’ he told New Scientist.
‘As time goes by and the hardware becomes more affordable, we can actually use this kind of dog to help, to serve, humans.’
In their study, Mr Li and colleagues tested the bot guiding three blindfolded people around an obstacle course the included narrow section less than three feet across — and they reported that it proved successful in each instance.
The tight turns tested the machine’s ability to lead without keeping the lead taut at all times, as the course was too narrow to fit the turning circle of both the robot dog and the handler combined.
In the future, the team imagine people being able to sync their computer or smartphone calendars with the robot, which could then automatically take them to their appointments by means of GPS navigation.
‘Our robot dog has a way of intelligence about navigation, from point A to point B,’ Mr Li said.
‘An actual dog doesn’t know about navigating. This is an advantage of our dog.’
Given an end point to reach, the machine maps out a simple route, adapting its course as it progresses to accommodate obstacles and the handler’s movements
Tim Stafford — a spokesperson for the UK charity Guide Dogs — told New Scientist that he supported the concept of robotic guides if such would help people with vision impairments lead more independent lives.
‘That being said, guide dog owners will frequently speak about their dog’s impact on their own life and well-being. They value their dog as a partner, companion and family member, as well as a guide dog,’ he added.
‘It is this deep bond which makes the relationship unique and so much more than just a way to get around safely.’