Transport and Mobility

Transport and Mobility

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6130-1.ch007
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One of the most common needs for persons with disabilities and elderly is the need for transportation and mobility. It is a need that penetrates many aspects of a person's life. From travelling to another city or country, commuting to work, or travelling within your city and being able to navigate in indoor environments such as a shopping mall, a museum, or even your own home, transportation and mobility are needed. This chapter focuses and discusses issues, technologies, and applications for enhancing the accessibility in transportation and mobility together with new ideas such as the idea and trend of telepresence that could be helpful for a large group of people apart from people with disabilities. Technologies and applications discussed include driverless transportation, indoor navigation, smart assistive technology devices for mobility and navigation such as smart wheelchairs, exoskeletons, smart white canes, etc.
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Mobile Telepresence Robots

In 2010 the New York Times ran an article entitled The Boss Is Robotic, and Rolling-Up behind You(Markoff, 2010). It described the current state of the art in mobile telepresence robots. It referred explicitly to models that were already available in the marketplace. The Vgo by Vgo communications (VGo Communications, Inc., 2013), the Tilr by Robodynamics, Texal by Willow Garage (Willow Garage, 2008), the RP71 by InTouch Health (InTouch Technologies, Inc., 2014) and the QB by Anybots (Anybots Inc., 2014) for a price anywhere in the range of $5,000 to $15,000.

Other companies involved in this business include Mobile Robots Inc. (Adept Mobilerobots LLC, 2013) a division of Adept Technologies (Adept Technology Inc., 2014). A number of EU providers have also entered the sector to much acclaim, for example Jazz (Robots Dreams, 2011a) by the French robotics company Gostai (Gostai, n.d.).

The QB which costs the same as a small car is based on Segway technology and is the closest so far to being ‘untippable’. One of the big challenges of the future is to make them robust enough to be able to navigate outside in the real world where they may be jostled by humans in a crowd, knocked over by school boys or the bustle of modern life.

There is a fine line between telepresence robots and humanoid service robots. The highly emotive Reeti (Robots Dreams, 2011b) by Robopec (Robopec, 2010) and a female humanoid called Robixa (Robots Dreams, 2011c) are intended for meeting and greeting, acting as sales assistants or presenting products, for example in trade expos for greater impact. These devices are used for surveillance, as well as for high end sales and marketing.

In a report in Wall Street Journal (Glazer, 2012) the telepresence robots of Vgo and Anybots are presented through a variety of cases. A guy from Belgium describes how he uses Vgo to cooperate and work with people in the US, a grandmother used the QB from Anybots to attend her son’s wedding in Paris and a student at Princeton shows how he uses it to get to his local tacos restaurant and place orders.

These examples show that telepresence robots are already used by people to get together with relatives and friends, cooperate at work and even for fun. Most vendors of telepresence systems claim that they can be used by anyone with a disability, sick or in care, to fulfil similar needs such as attend meetings, visit friends, attend class or generally make up for any normal lack of mobility. However, so far we have not hear of them being used in any systematic way in care-homes for the elderly or in the homes of people with disabilities.

The Issue with Cost

The high end QB is mainly aimed at corporate executives. A technology that allows a boss to visit 5 or 6 factory or supplier sites, many thousands of miles apart in a single day, is easily worth a $15,000 price tag when compared to time saved and the accumulated cost of flights, hotels and company service cars.

For now there is a certain novelty attached to it. It is clear however that low cost will be an important issue in opening up the use of these devices to a larger market. Engineering websites claims that you can build your own using off the shelf parts for about $1,000 and more recent models such as the Mantarobot (VGo Communications, Inc., 2013) aims to compete on price at $3,500 per unit.

Virtual presence solutions demonstrate the power that such innovation models can have in lowering the cost in expensive (at least up to now) alternatives which are targeting specific groups of people. Bringing further down the cost will make such AT more affordable to people with disabilities that are already facing problems with employment rates and low income. In addition, it also accelerated the speed of research and development for newer, better solutions in the future.

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