RFID-Equipped Robots Used As Guide Dogs

By Roland Piquepaille

A professor in computer science at the Utah State University (USU) is building robots to help people with disabilities, according to the Utah Statesman in this article. The story, which is more focused on the professor than robotics, carries several anecdotes, such as an embarrassing voice recognition system. After a blind man cleared his throat, the robot misinterpreted the sound as a sign that the man wanted to go to the bathroom. Later, every time a man cleared his throat before speaking, the robot changed directions and insisted to guide him to the restrooms. Even if the article is entertaining, this project at USU is far more ambitious. In fact, they want to design RFID-enabled robots mounted on mobile carts which will welcome blind persons at the entrance of a supermarket and guide them through the store. I bet you'll never find those carts at a Wal-Mart store, but read more...

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First, let's look in detail at the failure of the voice recognition system.

Vladimir Kulyukin, assistant professor in the department of computer science, works jointly as a computer science researcher and for the Center for Persons with Disabilities. He said he had an especially embarrassing moment here at the Center for Persons with Disabilities involving a robot and a speech recognition system.
"We figured we could speak to the robot in English, and using the voice recognition system the robot would interpret the commands and obey them. I quickly realized that just wasn't possible," he said.
He said a blind man found the glitch in the system when he cleared his throat and the robot misunderstood the sound to mean the man wanted to go to the bathroom.
"Every time the man cleared his throat, the robot would immediately change directions and guide him into the bathroom," he said. "It was an especially embarrassing moment in my research," he added.

Of course, this is only a very small part of the project, which will deploy radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for use in robot-assisted indoor navigation for the visually impaired.

"Simply speaking, we are trying to develop a robot for use as a mobile grocery cart used for the blind in supermarkets," he said. "The robot would meet the blind person at the door and, by the push of a button, would lead the person to different areas of the store."
Kulyukin said the robot would ideally be mounted on mobile carts, but the level of funding for the technology here at USU is not sufficient for marketing the project.

But they already built prototypes. And below are two pictures showing this RFID-equipped robotic guide (RG) for visually impaired people (Credit: Vladimir Kulyukin)

Robotic Guide for Visually Impaired

For more information, here is a link to Vladimir Kulyukin home page -- which is not always available. From there, you'll have access to various pages covering his research interests and his publications.

You might also want to read a paper named "RFID in Robot-Assisted Indoor Navigation for the Visually Impaired," available as a PDF document (6 pages, 124 KB). Here is the abstract.

We describe how Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) can be used in robot-assisted indoor navigation for the visually impaired. We present a robotic guide for the visually impaired that was deployed and tested both with and without visually impaired participants in two indoor environments. We describe how we modified the standard potential fields algorithms to achieve navigation at moderate walking speeds and to avoid oscillation in narrow spaces. The experiments illustrate that passive RFID tags deployed in the environment can act as reliable stimuli that trigger local navigation behaviors to achieve global navigation objectives.

This paper also exists as a PowerPoint presentation (42 pages, 2.58 MB). The images above come from this presentation.

Sources: Lexie Kite, The Utah Statesman, Utah State University, January 26, 2005; and various websites

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