Thursday, 24 Nov, 2011 Technology
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Latest Invention: Robotic Guide Dog from Japanese Engineers

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The visually impaired are in need of guide dogs, but at the same time animals need care and they are a lot of time and money consuming creatures. With this in mind Japanese researchers have come up with a robotic guide dog.

The team of engineers at NSK Corporation and the University of Electro-Communications developed a four-legged mechanical dog that runs on eight wheels and can even climbs stairs.

Katsuyuki Sagayama from NSK's Emerging Technology Research Center mentioned that the idea was to create a robot that would perform the main tasks of a real guide dog. The machine makes use of Microsoft's Kinect to sense stair number and width.

In addition, the robot features several sensors installed in its legs and head. The sensors in the head allow the robot to see what's ahead, but there are blind spots around the legs, which is why researchers mounted the distance image sensor on the head so the mechanical dog could recognize steps. At the same time the data around the legs is obtained with the help of proximity sensors.

In order to ensure a good grip for the user and avoid the necessity to hunch over on stairs, the handle connected to the robot can vary in height and angle. The guide dog also has an intuitive force sensor found on the end of the grip that directs the robot's movement: if pushed forward the dog moves straight ahead and if turned the turbot turns as well.

The invention can also speak with computerized female voice. It informs the user about the surroundings and gives instructions on how to dodge obstacles. The robodog will also be able to react to voice commands. Currently researchers are working on a number of safety issues so it would be possible to launch the robot onto the market in the future.

"So what we want to think about now is 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," Sagayama mentioned.

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