Dec 012011
 

The “robodog” speaks with a computerized female voice

 
Guide dogs for the visually impaired provide an important service and help provide a welcome sense of autonomy to physically-challenged individuals. Unfortunately, the highly-skilled canines require about US$30,000 in training over several months, and always seem to be in short supply. The growing demand for these specialized animal companions gave a group of engineers from Japan’s NSK corporation and the University of Electro-Communications just the impetus they needed to design a mechanical solution, and the robotic guide dog was born.

Guide dogs for the visually impaired provide an important service and help provide a welcome sense of autonomy to physically-challenged individuals. Unfortunately, the highly-skilled canines require about US$30,000 in training over several months, and always seem to be in short supply. The growing demand for these specialized animal companions gave a group of engineers from Japan’s NSK corporation and the University of Electro-Communications just the impetus they needed to design a mechanical solution, and the robotic guide dog was born.

To keep the user’s grip solid and prevent the need to hunch over on stairs, the handle varies in height and angle. An intuitive force sensor on the end of the grip directs the robot’s movement: push forward and it moves straight ahead, twist it and the robot turns. The “robodog” speaks with a computerized female voice, with which it conveys details about the surroundings, as well as instructions to the user on how to avoid obstacles. It will also eventually respond to voice commands, a function that will make it even more similar to the real dogs it’s designed to replace.

While the rather noisy prototype is well thought-out, there are still many design and safety issues to be solved before a commercial version (still many years away) will be ready for market.

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