A robotic guide dog for the blind and visually impaired
Latin America & the Caribbean
6.5 million visually impaired people, 100 guide dogs
As a Computer Science teacher, Neide Sellin spent much of her spare time inventing and developing new technologies, devices and innovative solutions that might help improve people’s quality of life, accessibility and mobility.
“I’ve always wanted to run my own business in which technology can improve lives”. Working on an experimental robot guide dog in her personal time, an encounter with a blind woman made Neide realize that she was developing a potentially life-changing device. “I offered my guiding robot-dog to a blind lady for a pilot trial, and she said that it changed her life.”
Neide began researching accessibility and mobility issues and quickly learned of the challenging reality that faced the blind and visually impaired in Brazil; a serious problem plagued Neide’s mind: how is it possible that in Brazil there are 6.5 million visually impaired people, but only 100 guide dogs? Purchasing, training, and maintaining a guide dog can cost up to 17,000 USD, taking into account all expenses for food and veterinary check-ups. For many blind people, these costs are prohibitive.
I’ve always wanted to run my own business, improving lives with technology.
From a question to a business
With the positive feedback ringing in her ears, it instilled in Neide a sense of responsibility – responsiblity for meeting expectations and providing the blind and visually impaired with the dignity and safety they deserve. Promptly applying for a loan, Neide founded her company Vixsystem, and applied herself with vigor to develop Lysa the robotic guide dog professionally.
The Lysa robot has similar functions to those of a conventional guide dog. Equipped with two engines and five sensors, it informs users through recorded voice messages about obstacles and risks of height collision in their path. Currently, Lysa is focused on guiding visually impaired or blind users through indoor environments, such as shopping centers, airports, schools and universities; however following a series of planned upgrades and improvements, Neide hopes to have Lysa guiding users through the streets in 2020.
Lysa is available to both public and private companies, including malls, airports, hospitals and non-profit organisations, based both locally and abroad. Focusing on private company sales initially, Neide already works with businesses who wish to improve accessibility and navigation of internal spaces, however she also envisions further interest and sales from private companies who seek additional assistive technologies as developed by her company.
In Brazil alone there are over 6.5 million visually impaired people, but only 100 guide dogs.
Offering dignity to the blind
Although Lysa still costs approximately 3,030 USD, the robotic guide dog offers the same functions as a living guide dog, for about 20% of the price. To date, the first 12 units of Lysa were sold in April 2017 and 200 more orders have since been placed. As the World Health Organization estimates that there are about 253 million blind and visually impaired people worldwide, Neide is convinced that Lysa will take on an important role in improving the lives of these people.
“The possibilities technology has to offer highlight the enormous potential for development and learning when it comes to people with different types of disabilities.”
Determined to continually better the device, impending refinements to Lysa include the use of artificial intelligence and a GPS system. Indeed, Neide’s vision about her business and products is very clear: “Dignity and autonomy with a new way of seeing the world: this is what we wish to achieve with Lysa.”
Dignity and autonomy with a new way of seeing the world: this is what we wish to achieve with Lysa.