The secrets of Tefi, the robot dog for the blind

The secrets of Tefi, the robot dog for the blind

Tefi, the robot dog designed for the blind, was not born from nothing. For its development, it was first necessary to unveil the many secrets of walking robots.

In 1989, at the MITLegLaboratory, Marc H. Raibert and others presented the report Dynamically Stable Legged Locomotion. That seminal paper revealed those secrets, the basis of legged robot locomotion. The report included a series of dynamic and control equations that were the origin of robots such as Tefi, the walking quadruped robots.

From that time until the birth of Tefi, the first robot guide dog for the blind, four decades of progress and knowledge have passed.

From one leg to climbing stairs

It all started with the control of a one-legged jumping robot, which evolved to two and finally to four. With it, the robot dog was born.

On June 23, 2016 Boston Dynamics introduced the Spot Mini robot, the first one for sale, but with a prohibitive price tag of $74 500.

Spot quadruped robot from Boston Dynamics. Boston Dynamics

It was good news, but its high price made it accessible only to companies and the military industry.

From 2020, knowing the basic secrets of making a four-legged robot walk, research increased in such a way that designs were optimized and the cost decreased significantly.

The first low-priced quadruped robots were introduced by Unitree. Its Go1 model sold for $2 500. Xiaomi lowered prices even further with its Cyberdog robot dog, which can be bought for less than €1 500, for the moment only in China and for developers.

Until 2022 the trend of the use of these robots remained industrial and military, arousing in this case, fear in society, and fueling the negative stigma of robotics.

Cheaper than a trained dog

Knowing the guts and gears of robot dogs, from the Institute of Physical and Information Technologies (ITEFI) we consider giving them a social and inclusive use.

Inspired by guide dogs for blind people, and thinking about dependent people, we proposed to develop a quadruped robot with characteristics similar to a dog, which allows it to have great mobility in complex terrains, climb stairs, walk on uneven surfaces, etc.

The quadrupedal shape of a robot makes it easier for it to move in the city, with the diversity of obstacles it presents.

The idea went ahead considering that the price of a trained guide dog exceeds 30 thousand euros and the person requesting it has to wait a while until it is assigned to him. In addition, a dog requires constant care from its owner and its service time does not go beyond 7 to 10 years. The price of a robotic dog like Tefi would not exceed 5,000 euros.

Tefi, the dog-robot to guide dependent or disabled people / ITEFI-CSIC.

The birth of Tefi

Thus was born Tefi, a silver-colored robot dog endowed with artificial intelligence whose name refers to the institute where he was born, the ITEFI.

Tefi is programmed to accompany and guide dependent and blind people. It has been developed on the basis of a commercial robotic platform from which modifications have been made both in hardware as in software.

To improve its autonomy and intelligence, aspects such as cameras, microphones, gps-rtk, speakers, LIDAR, various environmental sensors and a processor capable of supporting both the control system and the artificial intelligence models running in parallel were improved.

Tefi works with different artificial intelligence models, including voice recognition, so that the person can interact with the robot through commands. Its owner will be able to ask it to do what he wants it to do without any interface, just by voice. It also has an automatic navigation system to guide people both inside a store and in the dynamic environment of the streets.

“Tefi, take me to the office.”

Tefi makes an accurate map of the places he frequents. Once he has located on his map the home, the office or the usual coffee shop, the person only has to give him a command: “Tefi take me to the office”, and the guide dog will take his owner to the office, creating the optimal route and avoiding obstacles.

Outdoors you can make use of Google Maps to find the route to destinations that are not picked up on your map.

Map generated by TEFI.

Another aspect that we consider vitally important is that Tefi could make calls or send messages to friends, family and even hospitals in case of an emergency. The little robot dog also fulfills health functions: its sensors allow it to evaluate in real time the accumulation of carbon dioxide, ambient temperature, even the blood pressure of its owner.

This is a car and not a slipper

Among the many artificial intelligence models integrated in Tefi, the one that allows it to recognize objects stands out. It can identify cars, tables, chairs, etc., even people. So it can inform its owner about what he is seeing, bring him closer to a chair if that is what he has been asked for, or to the slippers.

We also wanted Tefi to pick up information from outside, such as street signs. This is why it has the ability to read QR codes and other derivatives that allow it to pick up relevant information such as the closing of a store, change of route on buses, road closures due to construction work, etc.

TEFI’s artificial vision.

Tefi still has a lot of development ahead of it, but before it hits the streets it already heralds the promising use of robotics in society, and that very soon Tefi and its ilk will be part of our everyday lives.The Conversation

Gerado Portilla, Ph.D. in Robotics, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM)

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.

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