For years, guide dogs have played a major role in being mobility aids for the visually impaired, yet it is with this said that for all the many benefits guide dogs have had, this solution is far from perfect. Factoring in things such as the cost of taking care of a guide dog, limited living spaces, or even allergies, these are all potential roadblocks in making guide dogs far from an enviable solution for many.
In everything we as humans do on a day to day basis, there are always numerous improvements to the existing ways things are done regardless of which respective scope one might be looking at. In the case of guide dogs, surely there would have to more than one way to assist the visually impaired that could make change for the better. Luckily, a new technology is being developed at Loughborough University that provides a new alternative, taking the typical functions of a guide dog and turning it into a robotic handheld device known as Theia.
Introduced by an industrial design student by the name of Anthony Camu, Camu was able to come up with the idea from playing virtual reality gaming consoles along with the concept of autonomous vehicles. While the current technology is still being developed, with a couple of aspects of the device being played around with for the final product, the main concept of Theia is that it is essentially a robotic guide dog that helps the visually impaired reach their desired destinations.
Paramount in the development of this product is what is known as a control moment gyroscope that often is featured as a part of spacecraft attitude control systems that includes its use on the International Space Station. Through this product, Theia is then capable of providing force feedback, where depending on where a respective user’s destination is, the device will then move the person’s hand as a way of taking them to their desired location, much like the typical use of a guide dog’s brace.
One might wonder how Theia would be able to find its way around as a robotic device, and the answer to that very question lies in the use of a lidar and camera system that gives the device the capability to present itself with a three-dimensional image of the surrounding area in the same way that an autonomous vehicle is able to operate. A user can then simply operate the device by entering their destination via voice commands, where onboard processors are then capable of determining the best possible route taking into account external factors such as traffic (on foot and vehicle) as well as the weather of the day.
While Theia isn’t to the point where it can offer this kind of widespread technological capability just yet, Camu hopes that with more trial and error and further developed prototypes he will be able to iron out any remaining complications. In fact, Camu has his sets even bigger than the uses of his current prototypes, where he has sights set on tackling more complex navigating environmental factors such as stairs, elevators, and even pedestrian walkways. In fact, as stated by Camu himself “The goal of many non-sighted people is to be independent and live a normal life but unfortunately, many who endure vision loss feel excluded from situations and activities which many people take for granted, such as socializing, shopping or going to restaurants” where he goes on to conclude in saying “Such limitations are usually formed due to the fear and anxiety associated with having a partial understanding of the surroundings. Theia has the capacity to expand a blind person’s comfort zones and possibilities, broaden their horizons and allow them to think less about walking and more about what’s waiting for them at the end of the route.”
With vast potential and the ability to forever change the lives of the visually impaired for the better, this is a technological innovation worth looking out for. After all, building upon established methods is how society is able to take itself to heights never seen before day in and day out, and that is the very goal of what Theia hopes to one day accomplish.