CSIC scientists develop a prototype capable of detecting traffic and helping people with disabilities
Tefi is a pet without a soul but with a big heart and enormous intelligence. This is the name of the robot dog designed by Spanish scientists from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) to guide dependent or disabled people. The name with which he has been baptized pays homage to his birthplace: the Institute of Physical and Information Technologies (ITEFI), dependent on the CSIC, in Madrid. The dog is endowed with (artificial) intelligence and all the heart that scientists have put into the salty Tefi, who, in addition to serving as a guide through the streets, shops and restaurants, is capable of announcing a medical appointment or requesting a taxi .
Among its multiple features, its ability to unequivocally distinguish between an object and a person stands out, thanks to its automatic learning system and the camera that it has built into its head. By being connected to Google, it can know information in real time, such as the traffic situation, and it is capable of communicating it to its owner or to other people by voice.
Although its metallic appearance and sudden, millimeter movements keep it from looking like an animal, its creators had guide dogs in mind when they began to think about Tefi’s possibilities.
With GPS and guide through stores
The robot has GPS for outdoor navigation and takes advantage of tools such as Google Maps to guide to different places, such as stores, restaurants and hospitals. Likewise, the researchers have implemented artificial vision algorithms that help their navigation and the identification of certain objects, such as traffic signs, traffic lights, streets, people, chairs, tables, computers or QR code information.
“The robot can warn of a medical appointment or request a taxi,” explains Gerardo Portilla, Tefi’s father.
Apart from its usefulness in guiding the blind, its creators especially highlight its potential when it comes to assisting elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s patients. “In addition to notifying her owner of the time she has a doctor’s appointment, Tefi is able to guide him directly to the office using only a floor plan that he can obtain if it is accessible. Thanks to its connection to the mobile phone network, the robot can also request a taxi so that the patient doesn’t have to worry about much of anything”, explains the doctor in Robotics Gerardo Portilla, Tefi’s father, as he gives him orders and shows the various tools available to you.
Tefi will never replace an animal, which provides companionship and affection, “but the range of possibilities and applications is wide,” says one of the researchers
Its quadrupedal shape makes it suitable for moving in any environment, even on stairs, and it is capable of doing a backflip. “He is very robust and dynamic in rugged environments and much cheaper than a guide dog. Currently, automatic driving for guidance has already been developed, as well as the artificial intelligence necessary for the detection of objects, people and signaling. He can communicate by voice with the person to carry out the tasks that are requested and can also tell what he sees through his camera and the information he receives from the Internet, “says Portilla.
Until now, the researchers have carried out different navigation tests inside the institute and have verified that the robot is capable of guiding the user to different areas of the building with voice commands. The scientists hope to soon start testing how Tefi navigates outdoors, where the environment is more dynamic.
«The application that this robot has is above all social, and that is what differentiates it from the dog of the American company Boston Dynamics, which was designed for industrial purposes. Obviously it will never replace an animal, which provides companionship and affection, but the range of possibilities and applications is quite wide,” says Francisco Montero de Espinosa, a CSIC researcher at the same center.
Although Tefi’s design is still preliminary, the researchers hope to be able to install sensors in a short period of time that can detect warning signs, such as high blood pressure or the presence of volatile chemical agents in a home. “Human-machine and machine-machine communication is the hallmark of this robot. In order for its potential to be full, it is key to ensure that it learns behaviors on its own, something that we are focused on right now,” concludes Montero de Espinosa.
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