The secrets of Tefi, the robot dog for the blind

Tefi, the robot dog designed for the blind, was not born out of nowhere.


For the development of it, it has previously been necessary to reveal the many secrets that walking robots harbor.

Tefi, the robot dog designed for the blind, was not born out of nowhere. For the development of it, it has previously been necessary to reveal the many secrets that walking robots harbor.

In the year 1989, at the MITLegLaboratory , Marc H. Raibert and other authors presented the report Dynamically Stable Legged Locomotion . That fundamental work revealed those secrets, the bases of the locomotion of robots with legs. The report included a series of control and dynamic equations that gave rise to robots like Tefi, the walking quadruped robots.

From that moment until the birth of Tefi, the first robot guide dog for the blind, four decades of advances and knowledge have passed.

From one leg to climb stairs

It all started with the control of a one-legged jumping robot , which evolved to two and finally four. With him, the robot dog was born.

On June 23, 2016, Boston Dynamics introduced the Spot Mini robot , the first for sale, but priced prohibitively at $74,500.

It was good news, but its high price only made it accessible to companies and the military industry.

As of 2020, once the basic secrets to make a four-legged robot walk were known, research increased in such a way that designs were optimized and costs decreased significantly.

The first low-priced quadruped robots were introduced by Unitree. His Go1 model sells for $2,500. Xiaomi lowered prices even further with its Cyberdog robot dog , which can be purchased for less than 1,500 euros, for now only in China and for developers.

Until the year 2022, the trend in the use of these robots continued to be industrial and military, arousing in this case, fear in society, and feeding the negative stigma of robotics.

Cheaper than a trained dog

Knowing the guts and gears of robot dogs, from the Institute of Physical and Information Technologies ( ITEFI ) we consider giving them a social and inclusive use.

Inspired by guide dogs for the blind, and with dependent people in mind, we proposed developing a quadruped robot with characteristics similar to a dog, which allows it to have great mobility on complex terrain, climb stairs, walk on uneven surfaces, etc.

The quadrupedal shape of a robot makes it easy to move around the city, with the diversity of obstacles it presents.

The idea went ahead taking into account that the price of a trained guide dog exceeds 30,000 euros and the person who requests it has to wait a while until it is assigned. In addition, a dog requires constant care from its owner and its service life does not go beyond 7 to 10 years. The price of a robotic dog like Tefi would not exceed 5,000 euros.

Tefi, the robot-dog to guide dependent or disabled people / ITEFI-CSIC.

The birth of Tefi

This is how Tefi was born, a silver-colored robot dog endowed with artificial intelligence whose name refers to the institute in which he was born, ITEFI .

Tefi is programmed to accompany and guide dependent and blind people. It has been developed based on a commercial robotic platform from which both hardware and software modifications have been made .

To improve its autonomy and intelligence, aspects such as cameras, microphones, gps-rtk , speakers, LIDAR , various environmental sensors and a processor capable of supporting both the control system and the artificial intelligence models running in parallel were improved .

Tefi works with different artificial intelligence models, including voice recognition, so that the person can interact with the robot through commands. Its owner will be able to ask it what he wants it to do without any interface, just by voice. It also has an automatic navigation system to guide people both inside a store and in the dynamic environment of the streets.

“Tefi, take me to the office”

Tefi makes an accurate map of the places she frequents. Once the home, office or usual cafeteria has been located on his map, the person only has to give him an order: “ Tefi take me to the office ”, and the guide dog will take his owner to the office, creating the route optimum and dodging obstacles.

Abroad you can use Google Maps to find the route to destinations that are not listed on your map.

Another aspect that we consider of vital importance is that Tefi could make calls or send messages to friends, family and even hospitals if it is an emergency. The little robot dog also fulfills sanitary functions: its sensors allow it to evaluate in real time the accumulation of carbon dioxide, ambient temperature, and even its owner’s blood pressure.

This is a car and not a shoe

Among the many artificial intelligence models integrated into Tefi, the one that allows it to recognize objects stands out. You can identify cars, tables, chairs, etc., even people. This way you can inform your owner about what he is seeing, bring him closer to a chair if that is what you have been asked for, or to the slippers.

We also wanted Tefi to pick up information from outside, like street signs. For this reason, it has the capacity to read QR codes and other derivatives that allow it to collect relevant information such as the closure of a store, change of bus route, street closures due to construction, etc.

Tefi still has a lot of development ahead of her, but before going out on the streets, she already announces the promising use of robotics in society, and that very soon Tefi and her family will be part of our daily lives.The Conversation