Not all heroes wear capes: a student who wanted to support people with visual impairments who are unable to have guide dogs has designed a handheld “robotic guide dog”, and the device called “Theia” can be a game-changer for so many.
Inspired by virtual reality gaming consoles and autonomous vehicles, Loughborough University industrial design engineer Anthony Camu decided to make the project a reality after realizing things like cost, small housing, and allergies might make guide dogs off the table for some blind people.
His design basically channels the functions of a guide dog into a robotic device that can be held in hand. While it is still in prototype form, Theia will be able to help visually impaired users to go their way once a few kinks are ironed out.
It uses a special control movement gyroscope that is found in the attitude control systems of spacecraft to move the users’ hands and “lead” them to the desired destination. It also processes real-time online data like weather or traffic density to help the user more thoroughly and guides users through outdoor environments and large indoor spaces.
Theia is activated with voice and can give quick and safe routes to given destinations using real-time data and onboard sensors. Using the data, Theia’s handle helps direct the user much like the pull of a guide dog’s leash. Camu also stated that Theia will be able to help people with visual impairments cross elevators, stairs, and shops.
“The main intention was never to replace guide dogs, but instead, to provide an alternative means of giving enhanced mobility options to visually impaired people,” Camu stated. “At about ten percent of the cost of a guide dog, it aims to be a more affordable solution for people who can’t get their hands on them.”