How much do you think it costs to train and keep a guide dog for life? You might be surprised to learn it’s a staggering £45,000 on average. But what if you could buy one off the shelf that required no training, no food and no attention?
Well, A-level student Tom Ladyman has done just that with his robotic guide dog project.
Tom used his time at college wisely, researching current ultrasound and forward facing camera systems.
His website explains these systems are expensive and have their limitations. He says “Existing solutions for robotic navigation include LiDAR, ultrasound and forward facing cameras. These all have downsides – ultrasound has very low resolution, whereas LiDAR is very expensive and they all give a head on view of the surroundings, which is very rarely ideal”.
Like most gadgets this one was born from need and personal experience. Tom explained ” I know people who are visually impaired and after extensive research I saw the statistic that I always lead with: cost. £45,000 for training and living costs. This seems absurdly expensive to me. Especially when you consider a 6-7 year working life span and a huge shortage of guide dogs.”
His system uses four precision placed cameras to build up a 3 dimensional view which the robot uses to guide its owner. Tom explains that other options could include GPS mapping and if it goes into production will be much smaller in size.
When asked about the prototype Tom explained feedback had been good, although it’s still early days thanks to exam board constraints. He said “There’s been a fair bit of interest, but it’s still very new. I’ve had to wait until after A level results day to publish information about it because of exam boards being funny about things being on the internet, even if it’s your work and your website. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about the method and its applications in general robotics. I think a lot of people see the guide dog as a method proof, rather than a project.”
Each robot dog costs £1,000 to build with limited maintenance costs. The benefits are plain to see; although this little pooch is far more of a gadget and certainly wouldn’t be a companion. The project is by no means finished either, as a parting comment Tom explained he has more developments in the pipeline. He said “I’ve been looking into building it into a much lighter and smaller machine. Something like a “drip stand” in hospitals is probably the most likely. That would help it move up stairs if it were light enough. I’ve also considered a hat with haptic feedback devices to completely remove the bulkiness of the robot.”
The project is clearly impressive and we wish Tom all the best for the future.
What do you think; are robotic guide dogs the future?