Monday, April 04, 2005

"ROBOTICS: Team's vision of robotic carts to aid blind shoppers"

Robotic carts may soon be available to assist the visually impaired in stores and other public venues, such as airports, by reading RF identification tags to guide users to products or service counters. "We have not deployed the cart yet in an airport, but we have deployed it for an extended time in a grocery store," said Utah State University professor Vladimir Kulyukin, who designed the cart together with four graduate students. One of those students, he said, "is an EE, and we would not have been able to accomplish our goal without that person." The robotic cart first presents users with a Braille menu of items. When the shopper chooses a product, the cart leads the individual to the proper aisle and provides verbal, step-by-step directions on how to retrieve the desired item from the shelf. The robotic shopping cart was built for less than $20,000 using off-the-shelf components that were integrated by the team's EE, Bharath Ramaswamy. Custom software was designed by the other team members for an embedded laptop computer connected to the robot, its RFID antenna, a Braille haptic display and a keypad input device.