Robotic guide dogs: pioneering assistive technology

21st February 2024
Sheryl Miles

Blind and partially sighted individuals may soon navigate indoor spaces more freely with the assistance of a robotic guide dog.

The University of Glasgow, in collaboration with industry partners and two prominent charities, is spearheading the RoboGuide project – an AI-powered, four-legged robot that aims to enhance the mobility of visually impaired people in settings such as museums, shopping centres, hospitals, and other public venues.

By combining advanced technologies within a commercially available robot framework, the project addresses the obstacles that have hindered the broader application of robots in aiding blind and partially sighted individuals.

The technology underpinning the RoboGuide is a sophisticated amalgamation of AI, robotics, and sensors which utilises advanced navigation and mapping technologies, surpassing the capabilities of traditional GPS and camera-based systems which, Dr Olaoluwa Popoola, the principal investigator of the RoboGuide project from the University of Glasgow's James Watt School of Engineering, notes the limitations of current robotic technologies, such as GPS and camera-based navigation, which struggle in indoor environments or in navigating around obstacles.

The core of RoboGuide's technological innovation lies in its use of an array of advanced sensors to meticulously map and assess its surroundings. These sensors, including LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), ultrasonic sensors, and infrared, provide the robot with a 360-degree view of its environment, enabling precise navigation and obstacle avoidance. Complementing this sensor suite is a sophisticated software system designed to interpret sensor data in real-time, learning optimal routes and making split-second decisions to guide users safely through their environment.

Additionally, the RoboGuide incorporates large language model technology, enabling it to understand and respond to voice commands and queries from users. This feature not only aids in navigation but also facilitates interactive engagement, making the technology more accessible and user-friendly for visually impaired individuals.

The project has already demonstrated its potential through a successful trial at the Hunterian Museum, where the RoboGuide provided effective navigational assistance and interactive guidance to visually impaired volunteers. This trial underscores the robot's ability to enhance the independence and experience of visually impaired individuals in diverse indoor settings.

The initiative aspires to advance this technology for market introduction in the future, offering support to the global population of 2.2 billion, including two million in the UK, who experience sight loss.

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