There is no better example of the rapid rate of product development than NSK's move into the area of robotics. At IREX 2011, NSK showed a prototype robot designed to safely guide the visually-impaired, with a footprint of 520 x 660 mm (20 x 26 in) and weight of 40 kg (88 lb). This week, just two years later, NSK showed two versions its Lighbot guide robot that represent a 75 percent weight reduction and an 83 percent footprint reduction. The ingenious right-or-left-hand-drive interface has been both replaced and improved, and all other aspects of the latest bots are equal to or better than the original.
Guide dogs for the visually impaired provide an important service and help provide a welcome sense of autonomy to physically-challenged individuals. Unfortunately, the highly-skilled canines require about US$30,000 in training over several months, and always seem to be in short supply. The growing demand for these specialized animal companions gave a group of engineers from Japan's NSK corporation and the University of Electro-Communications just the impetus they needed to design a mechanical solution, and the robotic guide dog was born.