29th May 2023

Virtual guide dog prototype created in UK

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Natalia Solovieva

Anthony Camu, a student at the Faculty of Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough University, UK, has created a prototype of an autonomous robotic device based on IoT technology that can replace a guide dog for visually impaired people. A compact gadget that fits in your hand like a dog leash will build the desired route and guide the owner along it, taking into account all potential hazards along the way.

Details on the progress of the project are posted on the official website of Loughborough University. Today, the number of visually impaired people worldwide has exceeded 253 million, the university reports. But only a small fraction of them have the opportunity to use a guide dog. For the rest, it is unavailable for many reasons, including the exorbitant costs of keeping the animal, compact living conditions or allergies. It was for them that student-inventor Anthony Camu, focusing on the principles of operation of virtual reality game consoles and autonomous vehicles, developed a concept and has already created a prototype of a device called Theia (Theia).

Theia is a portable gadget that can reproduce all the functions of a guide dog, helping owners to complete complex maneuvers without having to see obstacles or think about their safety. It is equipped with lidar technologies (a method for obtaining and processing information about distant objects using active optical systems that use the phenomena of absorption and scattering of light), cameras that create a three-dimensional image of the space surrounding the user, as well as a navigation system, an analogue of which is usually used as part of motion control systems spacecraft. Theia’s onboard processors will determine the optimal route to a given destination and divide the route into separate parts, which the user will be informed about by voice and sound commands. In addition, Theia completely mimics the behavior of a guide dog. For example, if a person deviates from the desired route, the hand will feel the “leash pull” in the desired direction.

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The main feature of the new gadget is the use of a minimum amount of input data.

“To use Theia, the user only has to say, for example, ‘Hey Theia, take me to Cabot Circus! Like a self-driving car, Theia will program routes to reach final destinations, avoiding accidents along the way, ”explains inventor Anthony Camu.

Using the Internet of Things technology, Theia will process the data available on the Web in real time, such as the density of pedestrian and car traffic, and the weather. This will guide the user to their destination with high precision, avoid obstacles on the way, and help them navigate successfully and safely in areas such as elevators, stairs, store entrances, pedestrian crossings, and so on.

It is also anticipated that Theia will be equipped with a failover procedure for high risk scenarios. For example, when crossing busy intersections. As soon as the user approaches such a dangerous place, Theia will warn him by pushing his hand back a little and will switch to “manual” mode of operation, which simulates the use of a cane for the blind and visually impaired. Such a function will maintain a high level of user awareness and control in situations where it is most needed.

According to Anthony Kamu, using his invention, people with visual impairments will be able to move along routes at the same pace as ordinary people, or even faster, to do it safely and efficiently, without the hassle and hassle associated with visualizing the environment.

The Theia robotic guide dog project is still in its infancy. The developers will have to fix problems such as excessive vibration and frequent engine breakdown. However, Kamu himself is going to develop the project, create a number of more prototypes together with design engineers and programmers. It is possible, he believes, that for these purposes a startup will be created and a crowdfunding campaign launched.

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“The goal of many blind people is independence. Unfortunately, many of them feel excluded from everyday life, and cannot do all those things that sighted people take for granted – socializing, shopping or going to restaurants. Such restrictions are usually formed due to fear associated with partial perception of the surrounding reality. Theia is able to expand the boundaries of a blind person, his horizons, give him the opportunity to think less about walking and more about what awaits him at the end of the route “, – comments the creator of the gadget. “I hope people can see the positive effects Theia can have on the visually impaired community.”

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Vicky O. Torres

My name is Vicky O. Torres. I am a psychologist by profession, and I love my work very much. And in general, I am an active seeker of truth, silence and beauty of the world.

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