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Innovative ‘guide dog’ device uses lidar to help Blind people navigate

What if you’re a person with low vision, but for whatever reason do not have ready access to a guide dog to help you navigate? A final year Industrial Design and Technology student from the U.K.’s Loughborough University may have come up with a solution that could help the more than 253 million such people worldwide — only a small fraction of whom have a service dog. What Anthony Camu has developed is a handheld device called Theia which works like a “handheld robotic guide dog — minus the waggy tail.”

The device, which currently exists only as a work-in-progress prototype, is inspired by driverless car technology. Using bounced laser light system lidar and cameras, the idea is that Theia can sense the world around it and guide people as they walk, helping them avoid accidents and safely reach their destination. Using onboard smarts that allow it to carry out routing, the hope is that a finished version could also keep track of the weather, traffic density, and myriad other factors while being voice controlled by users thanks to A.I.-aided speech recognition. Guidance is given to users by way of haptic feedback.

Loughborough University

“It’s amazing; the day after I graduated, I was on breakfast TV,” Camu, clearly bowled over by the reaction to Theia, told Digital Trends. “It has been a great experience getting such a positive reaction from the public. It’s also been incredibly encouraging having Blind and Visually Impaired people reach out to me wanting to be in the testing process and hoping the device will be developed.”

Camu said that there “is definitely potential to commercialize the Theia project and I have received commercial interest. Hopefully, this can lead to the device’s development.”

While this isn’t the only innovative high-tech device we’ve covered for Blind users, it’s definitely one worth getting excited about. As it stands today, Theia’s not quite ready for prime time just yet (excessive vibration and breaking motors are listed as two of the current flaws). But once those problems are ironed out, this could be a game-changer for a large number of people who could truly benefit from its advances.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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