It’s clearly not quite the finished article yet, but NSK’s new four-legged robot with wheels has great potential to be developed into a robotic guide dog for the blind.
The robot dog has wheels on the ends of its legs for traversing flat terrain and cleverly switches to its legs for climbing stairs, albeit in a leisurely manner.
Users grip an adjustable handle which allows them to maintain a stable posture and consistent grip at all times, even when they’re being guided downstairs, as the video explains:
The grip has a force sensor at the end, to enable the robot to move when instructed. This is used in an intuitive way, so if you grip it facing forwards, the robot goes straight, and if you grip it so as to twist it, the robot turns.
The tricky part is getting the robot to recognise stairs, and for this it uses sensor data which calculates shape, position, and attitude information in 3D space.
There’s still a fair way to go before a commercial version is released, but with real guide dogs being expensive to train and only able to work for about 10 years, this could provide a real boon to blind folks in the future.
NSK said they are now concentrating on the safety aspects of their invention:
We haven’t considered the safety aspects very much yet. We’ve finally reached the level where the robot can recognize and climb stairs. So what we want to think about now is safety; for example, how to avoid falling, how to recover and keep climbing if a fall does happen, and how to prevent the user’s fingers from getting caught when the robot moves.