Robots could provide a cheaper, safer alternative to seeing-eye dogs in the future.
A team of students at Arizona State University's Fulton School of Engineering recently took "First Prize" at a competition in China, hosted by Intel.
Teams from around the world competed in the engineering challenge, known as the Intel Cup.
The ASU team assembled a prototype of a robot, which is programmed to recognize dangers and act as an assistant for blind people.
"We just want to make people's lives as easy as possible," Stephen Lockhart, an ASU senior, said.
Their robotic dog leads a teddy bear in a small wheelchair, "listening" to commands and navigating around obstacles.
"We specifically programmed for traffic lights, cars and a cone," student Richard Simpson explained.
The students mixed software and hardware and got them to interact to move the dog.
Amazon's voice-activated Alexa technology is used by the robotic dog to understand commands.
A GoPro camera acts as the dog's "eyes." Its images are analyzed by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which spots cars, stoplights and cones.
Robots don't provide much comfort or companionship, but they could be efficient guides for the blind.
They aren't color blind, like most dogs. They don't get distracted, need food or need to be cleaned up after.
"Real guide dogs have limits. Robotic guides have no limits. The sky is the limit for them," Dr. Yinong Chen, the students' professor, said.
The Intel Cup is held every other year. Teams from ASU have won "First Prize" for three Cups in a row.
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