Bio-inspired Assistive Robotics: Service Dogs as a Model for Human-Robot Interaction and Mobile Manipulation

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Nguyen, Hai
Kemp, Charles C.
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Service dogs have successfully provided assistance to thousands of motor-impaired people worldwide. As a step towards the creation of robots that provide comparable assistance, we present a biologically inspired robot capable of obeying many of the same commands and exploiting the same environmental modifications as service dogs. The robot responds to a subset of the 71 verbal commands listed in the service dog training manual used by Georgia Canines for Independence. In our implementation, the human directs the robot by giving a verbal command and illuminating a task-relevant location with an off-the-shelf green laser pointer. We also describe a novel and inexpensive way to engineer the environment in order to help assistive robots perform useful tasks with generality and robustness. In particular, we show that by tying or otherwise affixing colored towels to doors and drawers an assistive robot can robustly open these doors and drawers in a manner similar to a service dog. This is analogous to the common practice of tying bandannas or handkerchiefs to door handles and drawer handles in order to enable service dogs to operate them. This method has the advantage of simplifying both the perception and physical interaction required to perform the task. It also enables the robot to use the same small set of behaviors to perform a variety of tasks across distinct doors and drawers. We report quantitative results for our assistive robot when performing assistive tasks in response to user commands in a modified environment. In our tests, the robot successfully opened two different drawers in 18 out of 20 trials (90%), closed a drawer in 9 out of 10 trials (90%), and opened a door that required first operating a handle and then pushing it open in 8 out of 10 trials (80%). Additionally, the robot succeeded in single trial tests of opening a microwave, grasping an object, placing an object, delivering an object, and responding to various other commands, such as staying quiet.
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