Service dogs, invaluable companions providing assistance to physically impaired individuals, are an elite and desired breed. Their presence in a home can make everyday tasks that are difficult - if not impossible - achievable, enhancing the quality of life for the disabled.
Yet with a cost averaging $16,000 per dog – not to mention the two years of training required to hone these skills – the demand for these canines’ exceeds their availability.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have engineered a biologically inspired robot that mirrors the actions of sought-after service dogs. Users verbally command the robot to complete a task and the robot responds once a basic laser pointer illuminates the location of the desired action.
For instance, if a person needs an item fetched, that individual would normally command a service dog to do so and then gesture with their hands toward the location. The service robot mimics the process, with the hand gesture replaced by aiming the laser pointer at the desired item.
Employing this technology, users can accomplish basic yet challenging missions such as opening doors, drawers and retrieving medication.
“It’s a road to get robots out there helping people sooner,” said Professor Charlie Kemp, Georgia Tech Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Service dogs have a great history of helping people, but there’s a multi-year waiting list. It’s a very expensive thing to have. We think robots will eventually help to meet those needs.”