Graduate students and researchers at Utah State University (USU) may have just made new environments easier to maneuver for people with visual impairments: they’ve applied the guide dog concept to robots to better assist the user.
Deemed the “Robotic Guide,” the devices combine computer technology with a mobile base to help people who are visually impaired better assimilate in traditionally tricky areas like malls, airports or grocery stores. Its intent is not to replace the traditional guide dog but to enhance the guide dog’s abilities and make visiting a new environment simpler and more efficient for people with visual impairments.
Using radio frequency identification tags (RFID), the Robotic Guide can give the user directions including product location and information. Users read a Braille directory and choose a location. The dog then relays the appropriate information, even specific details like a product’s location on the shelf.
According to USU computer science professor Vladimir Kulyukin, the robot guide won’t take the place of a traditional guide dog, but it will improve upon what the guide dog already does, particularly when a visually-impaired person enters a new environment that is unfamiliar to both the person and the guide dog. Normally in that scenario, the visually-impaired person is reliant upon someone else for assistance; with the Robotic Guide, the person can go it alone.
Said Sachin Pavithran, one of the Robotic Guide’s test subject, “I would go to a grocery store by myself if something like this were available to me. It would help in so many places where I can’t go alone now. When I am in an airport and have a flight layover, I am often stuck in one place because I can’t get around by myself. This robot would give me back some independence.”
USU professor Kulyukin would like to someday see the robotics used in shopping carts and in smart carts at airport terminals as well.
In addition to the new Robotic Guides, similar RFID technology has been used elsewhere for other ergonomic purposes including in libraries, where the implementation of RFID technology allows for self-serve patron checkout, thereby permitting library workers to concentrate and be more efficient with other tasks while also reducing the potential for worker injuries associated with manual book checkout.
Source: Utah State University (via Newswise); Ergonomics TodayTM