Navigating blind people with walking impairments using a smart walker
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Navigation in complex and unknown environments is a major challenge for elderly blind people. Unfortunately, conventional navigation aids such as white canes and guide dogs provide only limited assistance to blind people with walking impairments as they can hardly be combined with a walker, required for walking assistance. Additionally, such navigation aids are constrained to the local vicinity only. We believe that technologies developed in the field of robotics have the potential to assist blind people with walking disabilities in complex navigation tasks as they can provide information about obstacles and reason on both global and local aspects of the environment. The contribution of this article is a smart walker that navigates blind users safely by leveraging recent developments in robotics. Our walker can support the user in two ways, namely by providing information about the vicinity to avoid obstacles and by guiding the user to reach the designated target location. It includes vibro-tactile user interfaces and a controller that takes into account human motion behavior obtained from a user study. In extensive qualitative and quantitative experiments that also involved blind and age-matched participants we demonstrate that our smart walker safely navigates users with limited vision.
KeywordsElderly care Autonomous assistive robots Mobility aids for locomotion or navigation Interaction control of assistive robots Smart walker
We thank Professor Maik Winter, Barbara Weber-Fiori and Johannes Kamperschroer who were involved in the experiments with elderly people. We also thank R. Broer from RTB GmbH & Co. KG, Germany, for helpful comments and the exhibition space at SightCity. Sven Heinrich helped us with valuable information on human tactile sensitivity. Additionally, we thank Henrich Kolkhorst and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. We are grateful to all our participants for their consent to publish all results. This work has been partially supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Contract Number 13EZ1129B-iVIEW and by a grant from the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg (Az: 32-7545.24-9/1/1) for the Project ZAFH-AAL.
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