Theia – The Handheld Robotic Guide Dog

Mimicking a guide dog, this robotic handheld device will guide the user through obstacles towards a destination
Image Credit: Loughborough University

At least 2.2 billion people suffer from visual impairment or blindness in the world today. Assistance dogs, also called as ‘guide dogs’ or ‘seeing-eye dogs’ are a life-saving option for many people with blindness and other visual impairments. Their job is to lead them around obstacles. But even that comes with a price. Allergies to pets, the cost and not having enough space for pets are some of those drawbacks. And often they feel excluded in situations like socialising, shopping or to live a normal life by not being independent. 

But now a successful and a practical attempt is on the horizon, to overcome these obstacles that will greatly benefit anyone with a visual impairment. ‘Thea’ is an upcoming technology that will mimic the service of a guide dog but in the form of a handheld robot. Anthony Camu is the mastermind behind this design who is an Industrial Design student at Loughborough University.

Drawn inspiration from autonomous vehicles and virtual reality gaming experience, Theia will benefit a person with a visual impairment on navigation. The inside work is based on a method called, ‘Control moment gyroscope’, allowing Theia to force-feedback the user of the way it is headed by moving their hand towards that direction, mimicking a guide dog’s hold. Control moment gyroscope is known to be used on the International Space Station and also in spacecraft control systems.

To find its direction Theia uses Lidar with a camera system which buildup a 3D map of the way forward. Once the user voice commands Theia about the destination, the inbuilt processors will calculate the safest or easiest way possible by considering real-time weather, traffic and pedestrian data.

Still a prototype, Theia is on the mend to be a finesse end product. And that would feature identifying obstacles like elevators, stairs or pedestrian crossings. Hopefully Theia would be able to give people with visual impairments the freedom and independence they crave for many situations they feel excluded from.