Researchers from the Computer Science Department at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science have been attempting to adapt a robotic quadruped to perform the functions of a guide dog, or seeing-eye dog.
Professor Shiqi Zhang, PhD student David DeFazio and junior Eisuke Hirota have been working on the project, with the hopes of increasing accessibility for those with visual impairments.
A demonstration led by the pair saw the dog lead a person around a lab hallway and respond to directives.
Commenting on his motivation to pursue this research, Zhang said: “We were surprised that throughout the visually impaired and blind communities, so few of them are able to use a real seeing-eye dog for their whole life.
“We checked the statistics, and only 2% of them are able to do that.”
Key contributors to the lack of access to seeing eye-dogs is cost, with real guide dogs costing approximately US$50,000 (£40,294). Robot alternatives could potentially offer the same support at a significantly lower cost.
Cost decreases and advancement in quadruped technology have helped this project, which is still an early attempt at developing a seeing-eye robot.
A leash-tugging interface was developed using reinforcement learning. According to the team, with ‘about 10 hours of training’ the robot dogs can move around and navigate an indoor environment.
What’s more, they can also detect tugs within this timeframe.
The next steps for the team are to add a natural language interface, meaning a person could have a conversation with the dog to get assistance.
“Also, intelligent disobedience is an important capability. For example, if I’m visually impaired and I tell the robot dog to walk into traffic, we would want the robot to understand that,” added DeFazio.
“We should disregard what the human wants in that situation. Those are some future directions we’re looking into.”
The team hope that, within a few years, the seeing-eye robot dog could be seen throughout public spaces like shopping malls or airports.
The latest developments in robotics and automation will be on show at the Robotics and Automation Exhibition, which will be held on 19-20 March 2024 at the NEC Birmingham. Register now to avoid missing out on the UK’s biggest exhibition dedicated to robotics and automated technologies.