Lost? Ask This Robot for Directions

Rathu Baxter has been designed by the robotics team to act as a guide for people with low or no sight. It’s intended to help them to move through public spaces, such as train stations and local government-run facilities, after gaining instructions from the robot. Here’s how it works.

“Where do you want to go?” said Rathu after an initial “hello” message that alerts non-sighted humans to its presence.

“Elevator, please,” said Dr. Aaron Steinfeld, Associate Research Professor, Robotics Institute.

Rathu gently moved its arm towards Dr. Steinfeld. As the robot has vision via its onboard cameras and sensors, it won’t accidentally bump into him. Dr. Steinfeld then held his right hand flat under Rathu’s left end effector, which has a small cylindrical tube at the end. Once in position, Rathu prompted him to grasp the tube.

This is because it’s customary, in the non-sighted experience of the world, to ask a sighted person to “draw out” a map with steps on your palm. Then your brain translates it into a mental 3D map and you can move ahead.