A robot guide dog that could transform the way that blind and partially sighted people are guided around buildings has been tested with the help of Forth Valley Sensory Centre and RNIB Scotland.
RoboGuide, a four-legged AI-powered robot, can learn the layout of buildings, avoid obstacles and recognise different objects, helping people with visual impairments move independently through public spaces.
The prototype, developed by researchers at the University of Glasgow, brings together a range of cutting-edge technologies into an off-the-shelf robot body to help overcome the challenges preventing robots from being more widely used to assist blind and partially sighted people.
It uses sophisticated sensors to map and assess its surroundings, and software to help it learn the best routes between locations and interpret the sensor data in real-time. This helps the robot avoid the many moving obstacles it might encounter while guiding a human.
The RoboGuide also incorporates large language model technology, lending it the ability to understand questions and comments from users and provide verbal responses in return.
The robot was tested at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow by several blind and partially sighted people, including Forth Valley Sensory Centre users Laura Cluxton and Kyle Somerville, who are both registered blind. They helped researchers understand how RoboGuide would work in practice and identify any issues with the robotic dog.
RoboGuide is being developed by Dr Olaoluwa Popoola, Dr Wasim Ahmad, and Professor Muhammad Imran at the James Watt School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow.
Forth Valley Sensory Centre (FVSC) is based in Falkirk and has supported people across central Scotland with sensory impairment and their families for over 15 years. FVSC’s overall objective is to help people who have a sensory impairment live as independently as possible. It acts as a community hub, offering support, advice, practical help and social opportunities.
Supporting the development of RoboGuide is another way the centre is helping to improve the lives of people living with sight and/or hearing loss.
Jacquie Winning, chief executive of Forth Valley Sensory Centre, said:
“Mobility is a big issue for the blind and partially sighted community. RoboGuide is a wonderful solution to that problem, and we are delighted to help test this innovative and creative robot.
“We are pleased to play our part in helping to harness the power of new technology to improve the independence and confidence of people with sensory loss and make sure they can live their lives to the full.”
James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, said:
“We’re delighted to be supporting the research and development of technology that could be part of making the world more accessible and empowering blind and partially sighted people to live their lives confidently.
“Technology innovations like this are reshaping the future of accessibility and this partnership demonstrates their burgeoning potential to create a more inclusive world.”
Dr Olaoluwa Popoola, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, said:
“Assistive technologies like the RoboGuide have the potential to provide blind and partially sighted people with more independence in their daily lives in the years to come.
“One significant drawback of many current four-legged, two-legged and wheeled robots is that the technology which allows them to find their way around can limit their usefulness as assistants for the visually impaired.
“Robots which use GPS to navigate, for example, can perform well outdoors but often struggle in indoor settings, where signal coverage can weaken.
“Others, which use cameras to ‘see’, are limited by line of sight, which makes it harder for them to safely guide people around objects or around bends.”