NSK Ltd recently demonstrated a prototype of a robot that guides a person through obstacles at the “Robotics Demo Corner” of Techno-Frontier 2014 in Tokyo.
The robot, “Lighbot,” helps visually impaired people move in, for example, hospitals and commercial facilities. When the user walks while holding the handle of the robot, it recognizes walls and obstacles around it and guides the user to the destination through obstacles. In a sense, it is a wise autonomous car for the elderly.
A four-axis optical force sensor developed by NSK is embedded in the handle. When the user tilts the handle to the desired direction, the robot starts to move in the direction.
The lower half of the robot’s body incorporates a laser range sensor that recognizes walls around it and a range image sensor that detects obstacles located as high as the user’s eye level. When the robot is about to hit a wall or obstacle, it automatically changes its direction of movement. For the range image sensor, ASUSTeK Computer Inc’s “Xtion Pro Live” motion capture device for personal computers is used.
On the front of the robot’s undersurface, there is an infrared range sensor. Therefore, the robot can detect a large height difference in its direction of movement such as a step and avoid it.
Moreover, the robot has a navigation function. It estimates its location based on the traveled distance and a registered map. When the user selects a destination from pre-registered locations by pressing buttons, the robot automatically calculates a route from the current location to the destination and guides the user to the destination with voice.
The robot has one front wheel and two rear wheels, which are driving wheels independent from each other. It measures 360 (W) x 450 (D) x 1,050 (H) and weighs 15kg. NSK has been testing the robot at Kanagawa Rehabilitation Center since January 2014 and will continue the test.