Robots help visually-impaired shoppers

Wal-Mart is testing robots created by Vladimir Kulyukin of Utah State University to help shoppers with low- or no vision navigate through the stores and locate products.

The robots can guide people around other shoppers and through the aisles using radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and 16 ultrasonic sonars. They can take instructions via Braille directories of products attached to their handles, and they answer shopper's questions with spoken answers. And they can use their RFID readers to locate products.

Kulyukin says:

"There are RFID sensors placed on the shelves in the store. The robot has the RFID antennae and detects the presence of those tags. That's how it knows it's reached the Colgate section of the toothpaste shelf and it then announces, 'You have reached the Colgate toothpaste section, on your right.'"

But since individual items aren't usually RFID-tagged, visually-impaired shoppers run the risk of picking up the wrong product. Right now, the system can only tell you where the products should be. If an item has been moved or misplaced—either by a store worker who forgot to update or move the RFID tag, or by another shopper who dumped a discarded item—a blind shopper might grab an item they don't want. To get around that, Kulyukin is building a bar code into the system that will announce each product being placed in the cart.

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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Scooter Willis, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida, Gainesville, is building an RFID-based grid to help visually-impaired students navigate the campus.

He's installing RFID tags in carpeting, hallway baseboards, along outdoor walkways, and at intersections. Blind students participating in Willis' project will have RFID readers integrated into their shoes and/or canes, which will pick up location and environmental information from the tags. The data will be transmitted wirelessly to a PDA or cell phone, which will use a text-to-speech function to get information to the user.

Willis says a student using his system could tell that he or she is, say, 10 feet away from the next room, that he or she has reached the entrance to a particular classroom, that tehre is a door with a round knob on the left, and that the door opens in.

Because the data is stored on the chip, there is no need for a connection to a central server, so users' privacy isn't compromised. And the system helps people live independently, without calling attention to their disabilities.

Pretty cool.

posted on Tue, 06/07/2005 - 2:05pm
horsyhollygirl's picture
horsyhollygirl says:

I think this is a great idea! They should have this in every store! I wonder what the shoppers think? Espeshily People that see this happening! I can't belive that they can make things like that! They should make

posted on Sun, 03/19/2006 - 7:57pm
Jim's picture
Jim says:

As the father of a visually impaired child, I can tell you that
the frenzy for technology in this group will bring in many
customers, who before were "locked out" of chioces in the
products they were seeking.
This opens up the freedom to choose their purchaces instead of having them chosen for them.

posted on Mon, 11/06/2006 - 2:02pm

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