A student at Loughborough University has designed a ‘robotic guide dog’ that could help support blind and visually impaired people.
Designed by Anthony Camu, the product replicates the role of a guide dog as well as programming quick and safe routes to destinations using real-time data. Camu, who is a final year Industrial Design and Technology student, said he was inspired by virtual-reality (VR) gaming consoles to create the prototype, named ‘Theia’ after the titan goddess of sight.
Theia is a portable and concealable handheld device that guides users through outdoor environments and large indoor spaces with very little input. Using a special control moment gyroscope (CMG), the device moves users’ hands and physically ‘leads’ them, similar to holding the brace of a guide dog.
According to Camu, the device is designed to process real-time online data, such as traffic density (pedestrians and cars) and weather, to guide users accurately and safely to their destinations. The device will also be able to help the user tackle specific interactions such as elevators, stairs and shops.
,It will also have a fail-safe procedure for high-risk scenarios, such as crossing busy roads, pushing the user back into a manual mode, similar to using a cane.
Camu said that the goal of many non-sighted people is to be independent and live a normal life “but unfortunately, many who endure vision loss feel excluded from situations and activities which many people take for granted, such as socializing, shopping or going to restaurants”. He added that such limitations are usually formed due to the fear and anxiety associated with having a partial understanding of the surroundings.
“Theia has the capacity to expand a blind person’s comfort zones and possibilities, broaden their horizons and allow them to think less about walking and more about what’s waiting for them at the end of the route,” he added. “The ultimate goal is that Theia’s users can traverse routes safely and efficiently, at the same pace as, or even faster than ordinary people, without the worry and hassle of visualizing the environment.”
Camu has successfully created prototypes that feature the CMG technology, and although the project is still in its infancy, he says the potential is there. “I know this is a grand vision, but I hope people can see the positive effects Theia could have on the blind community,” he said.