For the visually impaired, a guide dog can be an incredibly helpful assistant, but factors like cost, smaller living quarters, or even allergens, can mean that many still can’t benefit from these devoted canines. Fortunately, a technology under development at the Loughborough University in the UK offers up another possibility by channeling the functions of a guide dog into a handheld robotic device.
Called Theia, the device is the brainchild of industrial design student Anthony Camu, who drew inspiration from virtual reality gaming consoles and autonomous vehicles. The high-tech gadget is currently in prototype form, but the basic premise is that Theia acts as a robotic guide dog to help visually impaired users navigate their environment.
Key to Theia’s technology is what’s known as a control moment gyroscope, which often features as part of spacecraft attitude control systems, including that used on the International Space Station. This enables Theia to deliver force feedback through its handle and lead the user in the desired directions, similar to the pull of a guide dog’s leash.
Additionally, a LiDAR camera system enables Theia to build a three-dimensional image of the environment, much like a self-driving car. Users can enter their destination through voice commands, and onboard processors will determine the best path to take while even factoring in real-time data on pedestrian and car traffic, as well as the weather.
There remains some work to do before the device offers this kind of functionality, with the current prototype prone to episodes of excessive vibrations and busted motors. But Camu hopes that with further development he can overcome these teething problems and even enable Theia to tackle more complex settings like elevators, stairs, and pedestrian crossings.