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Robot suitcase uses AI to help visually impaired travelers

Instead of being stuffed with clothes, this suitcase will carry sensors and AI tech to help you navigate.

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A new suitcase-style robot might make travel a little easier for the visually impaired.

Derek Croucher/ Getty Images

IBM Japan and partners are developing a new suitcase-shaped robot that could help the visually impaired while they travel. The navigation robot will use artificial intelligence to help people travel more independently, whether that's around town or around the world. 

A consortium of five companies -- including IBM Japan, Shimizu and Mitsubishi -- came together at the end of last year to lend their expertise and develop the AI suitcase. They plan to run a public pilot in June 2020.

The AI suitcase will help people find the optimal travel route based on their location and map date, the group said in a release. The navigation robot will also use video and other sensor information to help people avoid obstacles, alert them to nearby stores and help with required actions, like joining a line. 

The group was inspired by research conducted by IBM fellow Chieko Asakawa at Carnegie Mellon University on a navigation robot called CaBot, which is short for carry-on robot. Asakawa reportedly said she wants to make it possible for visually impaired individuals to walk around town alone freely and safely

The researchers had 10 blind people evaluate CaBot and offer feedback on features like walking speed and haptics in the handle that convey directional feedback. "We found that CaBot's performance highly exceeded users' expectations, who often compared it to navigating with a guide dog or sighted guide," researchers with Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute said in a report.

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