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Guide-dog style robot Autonomous External Recognition and Staircase Guidance Made Possible 

NSK has developed a four-legged, wheeled robot that utilises a newly developed external recognition technology and guidance function to detect the position of stairs, autonomously recognise the shape of the stairs and then guide the user up and down staircases.

The robot developed by NSK is a four legged, wheeled robot equipped with drive wheels on each of its legs and highly capable of manoeuvring over flat and stepped terrain. It is also capable of autonomously recognising stairs through the use of independent processing of external information detected through image and distance sensors, and then guiding the user up and down staircases. This technology resulted from the development of technology aimed at achieving an autonomous robot capable of assisting human eyesight. This technology has potential application as an alternative to wheelchairs, guide dogs and service dogs. NSK exhibited this product at Tokyo Big Sight at iREX 2011 (International Robot Exhibition) during November. Visitors to the NSK booth had the opportunity to see a demo and gain insight into the expanding needs of the market. NSK will be performing on-site verification in the actual market in order to confirm the practical use and safety of this product in the real world.

Product features
(1) New algorithm for external recognition

The robot converts information gained from the distance image sensor into 3D shape, position and attitude information so that it can recognise the width and number of stairs.*1 Conventionally this was a very difficult challenge, but with this new algorithm the robot can recognise stairs while in motion for a safe and stable ascent and descent of staircases.

*1: The fundamental portion of this algorithm is the result of joint research with Chisato Kanamori, Associate Professor at the University of Electro-Communications.

(2) Easy to use guidathatnce feature
Through the use of a length- and angle-adjustable grip as an interface between the robot and the user, the robot is capable of providing stable guidance, even when descending a staircase. The robot is capable of moving at a speed almost as fast as human walking speed, bringing it closer to practical application.

(3) Safety when ascending and descending staircases
The robot is capable of securely coming to a stop when its feet land as it is ascending and descending a staircase. It is equipped with a sensor that limits contact with uneven terrain so as to ensure stable movement and safe guidance for the user.

*2: This sensor is the result of joint research with Makoto Shimojo, Professor at the University of
Electro-Communications. To date NSK's involvement in robotics has been focused on the supply of such products as bearings, NSK linear guides™ and ball screws. In 2007, NSK integrated advanced mechatronic sensor technology with the machine fundamental and component technology NSK had cultivated over the years to develop a robot guide dog capable of autonomous recognition of stairs and the ability to ascend and descend staircases. In this latest version of its robot guide dog, NSK has improved the external recognition, movement and drive functionality and performance, and has added guidance capability.

Through the development of robots designed for human-assistance, NSK will continue working to identify underlying issues in this field, engaging its four core technologies – tribology, materials, analysis and mechatronics – to create robotic solutions to real human needs.

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