Robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are developing assistive robots to help visually impaired travelers navigate the smart cities of the future.
The U.S. National Science Foundation is funding the team's research, which has revealed some surprises. Blind people seem to be very comfortable interacting with a dexterous humanoid robot, compared to sighted people, who tend to be more apprehensive meeting the robot for the first time. "They were more comfortable holding the robot's plastic fingers, in fact, than having physical contact with another human being," says CMU's Aaron Steinfeld.
The team chose the Baxter robot, which lacks potentially dangerous pinch-points, making it safe for people to interact with it through their sense of touch. Baxter starts by introducing itself and then switches off to enable the user to manually explore its shape and construction, before turning on again upon verbal command. The robot also can quickly learn new tasks by copying users moving its manipulators.
The team also wants to integrate the robot with a smartphone app that would provide audio warnings to the visually impaired of hazards such as potholes or construction sites.
From Technology Review
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