Using the iRobot Roomba Create, I have prototyped a device called eyeRobot. It will guide blind and visually impaired users through cluttered and populated environments by using the Roomba as a base to marry the simplicity of the traditional white cane with the instincts of a seeing-eye dog. The user indicates his/her desired motion by intuitively pushing on and twisting the handle. The robot takes this information and finds a clear path down a hallway or across a room, using sonar to steer the user in a suitable direction around static and dynamic obstacles. The user then follows behind the robot as it guides the user in the desired direction by the noticeable force felt through the handle. This robotic option requires little training: push to go, pull to stop, twist to turn. The foresight the rangefinders provide is similar to a seeing eye dog, and is a considerable advantage over the constant trial and error that marks the use of the white cane. Yet eyeRobot still provides a much cheaper alternative than guide dogs, which cost over $12,000 and are useful for only 5 years, while the prototype was built for well under $400. It is also a relatively simple machine, requiring a few inexpensive sensors, various potentiometers, some hardware, and of course, a Roomba Create.
Step 1: Video Demonstration