A robot suitcase could replace canes and guide dogs for blind people

Negotiating an airport with its labyrinthine corridors, endless escalators and myriad gates is never easy. Now imagine doing it if you were blind.That’s the challenge faced by Chieko Asakawa, a computer scientist and IBM researcher…

Packed with cameras and sensors — many of the same technologies found in an autonomous car — the suitcase uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map the environment around it, calculating distances between the user and objects both stationary and mobile. A mobile phone app is used to program a destination into the suitcase, which plans a route and directs the user through vibrations in its handle.

The suitcase also features facial recognition technology, which can notify the user if a friend is nearby. It can also flag shops and other places of interest in the vicinity and direct the user to them if prompted.

The concept has been in development since 2017 in a collaboration between IBM, other Japanese companies, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, where Asakawa is IBM distinguished service professor at the Robotics Institute.