Researchers at the University of Glasgow have teamed up with industry partners and charities to develop RoboGuide—an AI-powered four-legged robot aimed at helping visually impaired people navigate museums, shopping centres, hospitals, and other indoor public spaces more independently.
The prototype integrates various cutting-edge technologies into an off-the-shelf robot body to address challenges preventing wider use of robots as assistants for the blind and visually impaired. The project seeks to eventually bring an advanced version to market to aid the 2.2 billion globally and 2 million in the UK living with sight loss.
“Our assistive technology project embodies innovation and inclusivity,” said Prof Muhammad Imran, Dean of Graduate Studies at the university’s James Watt School of Engineering and co-investigator on the project
“We’re pioneering world-changing technologies in Glasgow that can transform lives and reshape societal norms, thanks to collaboration with partners and co-designing with end users.”
The RoboGuide uses sophisticated exterior sensors to accurately map surroundings and software to learn optimal routes and interpret data to avoid obstacles while guiding users, according to Dr Olaoluwa Popoola, the project’s lead investigator. It also incorporates language technology to understand and respond to user questions and comments.
In December, volunteers from the Forth Valley Sensory Centre (FVSC) and Royal National Institute of Blind People tested the prototype at the Hunterian Museum. It helped them navigate and provided spoken guidance on exhibits.
“We’re integrating end user feedback into improving the technology to develop a complete system adaptable for various robots assisting the visually impaired in diverse situations,” said co-investigator Dr Wasim Ahmad.
Representatives of both charities joined researchers today to showcase RoboGuide’s progress.
“Mobility is a big issue, and RoboGuide wonderfully addresses that,” said FVSC’s CEO Jacquie Winning MBE. RNIB Scotland’s Director James Adams added the innovation “could be part of making the world more accessible and empowering.”
The nine-month project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
(Image Credit: University of Glasgow)
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