Robotic Guide Dog: Leading a Human with Leash-Guided Hybrid Physical Interaction

Guide dogs have an enormous benefit in helping visually impaired or frail people to navigate. An autonomous robot could be designed mimicking this example. Nevertheless, most current guide robots are guiding the human with a rigid arm, which makes operating difficult and complex. Using a leash could solve the problem.

Image credit: Xiao, A. et al,, arXiv:2103.14300

Therefore, a recent paper introduces a novel hybrid physical human-robot interaction framework to navigate using a robotic guide dog with a lash. The model captures the dynamic relationship in the robot-leash-human system. It plans paths to avoid obstacles during navigation to the goal location and considers taut and slack states for the leash.

A robot called Mini Cheetah can successfully navigate with a collision-free trajectory in narrow environments while guiding blind-folded people by exploiting hybrid mode switches. The video of the experiments is available here.

An autonomous robot that is able to physically guide humans through narrow and cluttered spaces could be a big boon to the visually-impaired. Most prior robotic guiding systems are based on wheeled platforms with large bases with actuated rigid guiding canes. The large bases and the actuated arms limit these prior approaches from operating in narrow and cluttered environments. We propose a method that introduces a quadrupedal robot with a leash to enable the robot-guiding human system to change its intrinsic dimension (by letting the leash go slack) in order to fit into narrow spaces. We propose a hybrid physical Human-Robot Interaction model that involves leash tension to describe the dynamical relationship in the robot-guiding human system. This hybrid model is utilized in a mixed-integer programming problem to develop a reactive planner that is able to utilize slack-taut switching to guide a blind-folded person to safely travel in a confined space. The proposed leash-guided robot framework is deployed on a Mini Cheetah quadrupedal robot and validated in experiments.

Research paper: Xiao, A., Tong, W., Yang, L., Zeng, J., Li, Z., and Sreenath, K., “Robotic Guide Dog: Leading a Human with Leash-Guided Hybrid Physical Interaction”, 2021. Link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2103.14300

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