Robots are increasingly being considered to potentially help people with disabilities in the near future. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing a robot to assist people who are blind or visually impaired to travel more independently and safely. This is their second year conducting the research, and they hope to develop an assistive robot that can carry out different tasks. Some of these include helping travelers get directions and information at train stations, warn them about obstacles on their paths, etc.
As a blind person, I think that this type of innovative technology will not substitute the orientation and mobility techniques we currently use to get around safely and independently. Instead, I think it will serve as a type of complimentary assistance to those of us who can’t see. Train stations aren’t always accessible, and these types of robots might come in handy in helping us with small but important tasks. For example, when I go to a busy train station, I might need to go to the information desk to know when the next train arrives or purchase a ticket. I can definitely see a day when tasks like these will be easily done with the assistance of a robot or similar assistive device. I could simply ask the robot to tell me when the next train will arrive, or if the ticket vending machines are not accessible it could assist me in choosing and purchasing the ticket.
Researchers hope that these robots will also serve as “guides” for the blind and visually impaired. Dog guides are not for everyone, and people might not want a dog for religious or other reasons. These individuals might one day have the option to use a robot to guide them instead.
Although the concept of using robots to assist people with disabilities is still in its early stages, I think it has a lot of potential for enhancing our and independence. How do you think robotic technology will help people with disabilities in the near future? We’d love to hear your thoughts!