Experts from the University of Glasgow are developing an AI-powered robot which aims to help visually impaired people move more independently through museums, alongside shopping centres, hospitals and other public places.

The university has partnered with industry and charities to develop the ‘RoboGuide’ prototype, which walks on four legs and can play spoken audio. It is hoped the completed robot will do a better job of navigating indoor settings, where signal coverage like GPS typically weakens.

In December, the RoboGuide was tested for the first time at the Hunterian. Volunteers from FVSC, a community for those with visual or hearing loss, and Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) interacted with the robot to find their way around the first floor of the museum, and provided interactive spoken guidance on six exhibits.

Dr Olaoluwa Popoola, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, is the RoboGuide project’s principal investigator.

He said: “Assistive technologies like the RoboGuide have the potential to provide blind and partially sighted people with more independence in their daily lives in the years to come.”

Software developed by the team guides the robot through an optimal route between locations, avoiding the many moving obstacles it might encounter while guiding a human.

The RoboGuide also incorporates large language model technology, which is claimed to provide the ability to understand questions and comments from users and respond.

Dr Wasim Ahmad, of the James Watt School of Engineering, is co-investigator on the project. He said: “Ultimately, our aim is to develop a complete system which can be adapted for use with robots of all shapes and sizes to help blind and partially sighted people in a wide range of indoor situations.

“We hope that we can create a robust commercial product which can support the visually impaired wherever they might want extra help.”

The nine-month research project is supported by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UKRI, through the Impact Acceleration Account programme.

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