With the goal of revolutionizing guide assistance for the blind, scientists have recently turned their attention to dog-like quadruped robots. These robots have the potential to replace traditional seeing-eye dogs, which can be expensive to raise and train. The high cost of breeding, raising, and training a single seeing-eye dog, which amounts to approximately US$48,000, has prompted researchers to explore alternative solutions.
Quadruped robots, such as the Unitree A1, offer several advantages over traditional guide dogs. Unlike their canine counterparts, these robots can be preprogrammed and do not require the usual expenses that come with dog ownership, such as food, water, and exercise. In addition, they can be acquired for as little as US$1,500, a fraction of the cost of training a seeing-eye dog.
To test the viability of using the Unitree A1 robot as a guide dog, Asst. Prof. Shiqi Zhang and colleagues at New York’s Binghamton University designed an interface to which an ordinary dog leash was attached. Through a reinforcement learning process, custom locomotion control software was trained to respond to leash tugs by turning the robot left or right.
In a recent demonstration, the adapted Unitree A1 successfully guided a person along a hallway and responded to leash tugs at intersections. While this is an encouraging outcome, Zhang acknowledges that further development is necessary. The team plans to incorporate a natural language interface to enable conversations between the user and the robot. Intelligent disobedience, the ability of the robot to disregard commands that may put the user in danger, is also a crucial capability that needs to be implemented.
The potential applications of these dog-like robots extend beyond assisting the blind in their everyday lives. These bots could also be made available for temporary use in challenging environments like shopping malls and airports, providing guidance to individuals who find navigation difficult.
Q: How much does it cost to raise and train a seeing-eye dog?
A: According to Guide Dogs of America, it costs approximately US$48,000.
Q: How much do quadruped robots cost?
A: Quadruped robots can be purchased for as little as US$1,500.
Q: Can quadruped robots be preprogrammed?
A: Yes, quadruped robots can be preprogrammed for specific tasks.
Q: What functionalities do quadruped robots possess?
A: Quadruped robots come with sensors that enable obstacle detection/avoidance, trajectory planning, and navigation.
Q: What are the future plans for these guide robots?
A: Researchers aim to develop a natural language interface for the robot and incorporate intelligent disobedience to ensure user safety. These robots may also be employed in locations such as shopping malls and airports for temporary guidance.