Home Bots & Brains RoboGuide helps blind people

RoboGuide helps blind people

by Pieter Werner

Researchers at the University of Glasgow, in collaboration with industry partners and two charities, are developing an AI-powered four-legged robot, named RoboGuide, designed to assist blind and partially sighted individuals. The robot aims to enhance the independence of visually impaired people by aiding their navigation in indoor environments such as museums, shopping centers, and hospitals.

The RoboGuide prototype incorporates various advanced technologies into a standard robot body to address challenges that have hindered the wider use of robots for assisting those with sight loss. This initiative aligns with the goal of supporting the approximately 2.2 billion people globally and two million in the UK living with sight loss.

Professor Muhammad Imran, Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering and co-investigator of the project, highlights the project’s innovative and inclusive nature. Dr. Olaoluwa Popoola, the principal investigator, emphasizes the potential of assistive technologies like RoboGuide to provide more independence to the visually impaired.

One of the challenges with current assistive robots is their navigation limitations, particularly in indoor settings. GPS-based robots struggle indoors due to weak signal coverage, and camera-based robots face limitations in line of sight navigation. The RoboGuide addresses these issues with sophisticated sensors and software that enable it to map environments, learn optimal routes, interpret sensor data in real-time, and navigate around moving obstacles.

Additionally, the RoboGuide features large language model technology, allowing it to understand and verbally respond to user queries and comments. This feature enhances the robot’s interactive capabilities, making it more user-friendly.

The Forth Valley Sensory Centre (FVSC) Trust and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Scotland have supported the development of RoboGuide. The robot was tested at the Hunterian Museum with volunteers from FVSC and RNIB, where it successfully guided volunteers and provided interactive spoken guidance on exhibits.

Dr. Wasim Ahmad, a co-investigator, states that the team is working closely with FVSC and RNIB Scotland to refine the technology through real-world testing. The ultimate goal is to develop a comprehensive system adaptable to various robot forms to assist the visually impaired in a wide range of indoor settings, leading to a robust commercial product.

Jacquie Winning MBE, Chief Executive of the Forth Valley Sensory Centre, and James Adams, Director of RNIB Scotland, express their enthusiasm for the project. They emphasize the importance of such technology in enhancing the mobility, independence, and confidence of people with sensory loss, and its potential to create a more inclusive world.

The nine-month research project receives funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UKRI, through the Impact Acceleration Account programme.

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