Robot lends 'a seeing eye' for blind shoppers

 

Lynn Krumm, 45, would welcome the help.

 

Krumm has Usher syndrome type 2, a genetic disorder that involves hearing loss and can cause vision deterioration severe enough to lead to blindness.

 

When Krumm shops in her local grocery store in Logan, Utah, she has to wait about 20 minutes for a customer-service representative to help her find items.

So Krumm, like many of the nation's 1.3 million legally blind people, has built her schedule around the availability of sighted guides. Store obstacles product reshuffling, floor layout and sale items make it difficult to navigate an environment that others take for granted. "For someone losing their sight, it's hard to swallow your pride and say 'I need help with this,' " Krumm says. "This is a step towards relieving some of that anxiety and alleviating some of that dependency,"

So she was thrilled when researchers at Utah State asked her to participate in the Robotic Guide research project. "It makes you feel more like a human, a valued member of society," Krumm says. Two years ago, Vladimir Kulyukin, an assistant computer science professor at Utah State, was talking with Sachin Pavithran, a friend and blind colleague, about the obstacles the blind and visually impaired routinely face. The two decided to build a device that could help the visually impaired navigate stores.

OUR WORKS

  • All
  • Blind shoppers
  • The robotic shopping
  • Robot hand performs

WHY CHOOSE US

BEAUTIFUL & ENJOYABLE DESIGNS

We define the trends. Enough Said!

The prototype, called RG, consists of a commercially available motorized base, built by MobileRobots.com, in Amherst, N.H. It has rechargeable batteries and a microcontroller that lets the unit take directions from the attached laptop computer, which has a speech-synthesis engine. The user works with a Braille store directory and a numeric keypad to tell the device what to look for.

PERFECT LAYOUT & EFFICIENT CODING

"When the robot reaches a destination say, the Cheerios cereal shelf in the cereal aisle the speech-synthesis engine generates an appropriate message telling the user that the Cheerios cereal boxes are on the shelf to his/her right." Kulyukin says.

DEDICATED SUPPORT & UPDATES

The robot also has a shopping basket mounted on top and a handle in the back that the user holds during navigation.

Still, there are limitations.

For instance, those who are not familiar with Braille will not be able to use the shopping assistant. "We are working on a speech interface that will allow the user to access the product directory through synthesized speech," Kulyukin says. After a testing phase conducted at Lee's Marketplace, a grocery store in Logan, Kulyukin negotiated with the local Wal-Mart and other grocery stores to conduct more extensive trials.

Fujitsu rolls out expressive robot

The bright minds over at Fujitsu Other obstacles discovered while testing included the robot's inability to access individual items and navigation handling.
"Right now, the robot will guide you to the Colgate toothpaste shelf, but the user will have to grope for an individual toothpaste box," Kulyukin says. "Obviously, there is a chance that a wrong box can be picked."
The team is attempting to address the problem by integrating a small bar-code reader, which is already used by most grocery stores.

11

Designers

6542

Hours worked

254

Project finished

435

Drunk Coffee

The Robotic Shopping Assistant

"What we anticipate is that once the robotic shopping assistant gets the user to a shelf with a bunch of individual items, the user will then use a miniature bar-code reader, essentially a pencil, to read the bar code on the shelf until the bar code of the right item is found," he says.But at least one organization wants to take a wait-and-see approach before getting too excited.Paul Schroeder, vice president of programs and policies for the American Foundation for the Blind, calls the research admirable but says the promise of technology doesn't always pan out in the real world.


"For this device to be helpful, they must conquer problems that would arise in an imperfect environment," Schroeder says.The $5,000 device is not ready to market or mass-produce, Kulyukin says. "But we would like to eventually see the Robotic Guide in other environments, like airports."The researchers built RG using existing technology. The work is funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and two grants from Utah State. Have rolled out an updated version of their HOAP (Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform) robot.

The HOAP-3 is a follow on to the HOAP-2 and HOAP-1, which was originally launched in 2001. After four years of development with Fujitsu's Automation and Laboratory divisions, the latest robot can now process and interpret sounds and visual images and has various sensors that let the robot produce high-level kinetic expressions.The HOAP-3 measures 23.6 inches tall and weighs in at nearly 20 pounds. The mobile robot runs on the RTLinux operating system over a 1.1GHz Intel Pentium M processor with 802.11g wireless capabilities. That means you can either tether the robot to the network or control it over a local wireless network.Fujitsu said it plans to ship 100 units over the next three years, targeting researchers in robotics and communication studies.

Humanoid Robots

Other humanoid robots on the market include the mass-produced Sony QRIO and Honda Asimo as well as lesser-known models like the black chassis Chroino robot and the Repliee Q1, which looks like a human woman.

Robot hand performs remote breast checks Breast checks

Life-saving breast examinations could soon be performed by a robotic hand that combines ultrasound with an artificial sense of touch.
The robotic breast examiner was devised by researchers at Michigan State University in the US. They say it will enable a medical specialist to examine women from a remote location, perhaps even from the other side of the world.
"Just because you’re located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or even Botswana, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a sophisticated diagnostic or therapeutic procedure," says Carol Slomski, a surgeon at Michigan State University, who helped design the system.

OUR SKILLS

Robot
Researchers
Medical Specialist
Motion-sensing Device
Major Advantage
  • The robot hand is remotely controlled by means of a haptic "glove", in which each finger is connected to a motion-sensing device. The operator's hand movements are then measured and sent via a computer to the artificial hand, which almost instantly mimics the operator's moves.

  • Hand-in-glove

    The robotic grasper also measures the consistency of objects in its grasp by means of feedback to its motors. And this tactile information is fee back to the mechanical glove giving the wearer an artificial sensation of touch. The arm also incorporates an ultrasound sensor as well as three video cameras, to give the expert a good view of the procedure.

  • "Having the capability of ultrasound and palpation simultaneously is a major advantage," adds Ranjan Mukherjee, another member of the Michigan team. "Often the ultrasound and exam are done separately. But if the physician can look at the image and feel what he or she is seeing, that’s another huge advantage."

Data Delay

Mukherjee says the next stage is to conduct clinical trials, which should show how reliable the system is. But he believes it could be five years before the system becomes commercially available.
It is a realistic thing to try to do, says computer interaction expert Stephen Brewster, at the University of Glasgow, UK. Lots of telesurgery work is for the military so it is nice to see something coming into the standard medical domain.
But Brewster adds that the system would need to match a doctors bedside manner when dealing with patients. There are of course issues with powerful robots coming into direct contact with people,he told New Scientist. It would have to be very carefully designed and tested to make sure that it could not exert inappropriate forces and so cause harm.
But some experts are more doubtful that such a system would work in practice. "Tele-operated robots have a big problem with delay," says William Harwin, at the University of Reading in the UK, and the sensitivity of touch is not as good.
He suggests a better way to perform remote examinations is to perform the data gathering and expert analysis one after the other. "A more realistic model in principal is to gather data from the remote site, under direction from the clinical base," he explains, and then transfer it the remote expert, who could then use virtual reality tools to interpret it.

 

GET IN TOUCH

Say hello!