PORTLAND, Ore. Service dogs assist the disabled by fetching medications and opening drawers and doors, but they are expensive--about $16,000 per dog. They also take two years to train and there are not enough service dogs to meet the growing demand.
By designing a robot that obeys the same verbal commands as service dogs, Georgia Tech researchers said they are aiming to increase the supply of inexpensive robots to fill the multi-year waiting list for service dogs.
"There are a lot of things that able-bodied people take for granted that people with disabilities are just not able to do, or have difficulty with," said Charlie Kemp, a professor in Georgia Tech's Department of Biomedical Engineering. "We have been looking for awhile now at how can we make robots that can help them."
The first phase of the research yielded a point-and-click laser that allows the disabled to gesture by painting the object to be fetched with a laser pointer. The device directs the robot to see the object needed.
The simple interface allows disabled persons to accurately indicate objects to be fetched. By itself, however, it cannot communicate more complex tasks like opening a door or drawer. Luckily, verbal commands already exist for service dogs to accomplish these tasks, which is what prompted Kemp to develop the robotic service dog.
|Georgia Tech's robot obeys the same commands as service dogs to help disabled people perform tasks.|
"We developed this laser pointer interface so the robot can go and fetch objects for people, where they would command therobot by just pointing at things," said Kemp. "We wanted to integrate verbal communications with the pointing, and it turns out that is exactly how people interact with dogs--they gesture and then they give a verbal command. So we were able to combine our laser pointer, that's used as a gesture, with just a short verbal command which is identical [to] what's used with dogs."
The initial prototype used off-the-shelf robotic components combined with a custom manipulator that emulates a dog's mouth. Service dogs accomplish tasks that would ordinarily require complex hand motions. Towels are often attached to door knobs and drawer handles so that service dogs can open them on command.
By designing a robotic manipulator with a camera to zero in on the towels, along with sensors to measure the pressure exerted to grip them, the robot is able to perform the same tasks as a service dog, Kemp said.