Japanese company NSK has demonstrated a working prototype of a robot guide dog that could one day be used to help visually impaired people. The same robot was previously shown in a lab environment. In practical terms, the robot would be a replacement for the real guide dogs that require a long and expensive training (months). Obviously, real dogs have a great benefit: they come with a preloaded form of intelligence that allow them to move around, and react to situations that are not “part of a program”. That said, NSK thinks that it’s worth taking a shot and the result is very interesting.To address the mobility challenge, NSK is using Kinect, Microsoft’s motion sensor to detect and analyze difficult obstacles like stairs. Then comes the issue of kinesthetic awareness: the robot has to sense what’s around its feet.  For that, NSK is using proximity sensors which are probably not so different from those that we have on smartphones.

The end result is a four-legged robot that can take on stairs, although slowly. The robot provides a guidance platform for its human master, and seems to provide a solid grip as well. At the moment, NSK has been working on the fundamental building blocks: motion, environment awareness, but real dogs don’t have to worry quite yet: it will take a while before they’re out of a job for good. More photos at Digitinfo

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