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Robot Could Guide Humans Through Areas of Low Visibility

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Sheffield Hallam University researchers are participating in a multi-disciplinary project to develop a robot that can guide humans in areas of low visibility. The robot, which will be slightly larger than a laptop, could be used by firefighters and by the blind or visually impaired.

The robot features lead-like tethers, or reins, that it uses to communicate with users. The researchers are developing three different types of reins. Flexible reins will transmit explicit information that is generated by the pull of the rein, while stiff reins will provide implicit feedback. The researchers also are developing a wireless reins system that is similar to the Nintendo Wii handset.

The robot must create some confidence for the human using it, says Sheffield Hallam's Jacques Penders. Another challenge will be to choose whether the information the robot uses should be explicit or implicit. Penders says the flexible rein will likely need explicit information while the stiff-reined machine will probably provide implicit feedback.

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