Alexandre Foucqueteau has developed a new application for a small multifunctional robot called Cellulo as a part of his semester project. The robot, which was created at EPFL two years ago, can now assist visually impaired children move around their classroom.
The child moves the small robot across a map of the room. When the robot collides virtually into something, such as the teacher's desk or a table, it can identify the object. Although this may sound simple, getting a tablet to interact with the robot and identify the objects was in reality quite complex.
Foucqueteau worked on the project along with Agnieszka Kolodziej, a PhD Student from the cognition, language and ergonomics unit at the University of Toulouse who is studying spatial awareness and language learning among blind people. "I spent five months observing classes of visually impaired children aged between three and nine years old. The classes were very mixed, and the learning tools available did not really meet their needs. Thanks to our partnership with EPFL, we've been able to come up with a really fun and interactive project." That is how this new application for the small robot came into existence.
To assist the children to visualize the classroom in 2D and perceive where furniture is located, Foucqueteau had to build a model of the room and teach Cellulo to unmistakably specify anything blocking the way.
This is how it works: the robot stops, moves back and vibrates when it touches something. The child then has to say what the robot has hit. If the child is spatially lost and doesn’t know, the tablet can say what it is – the crayon cupboard or the teacher's desk, for instance.
Cellulo is on the whole solid and easy to handle. Its mechanism is magnetic, which means it cannot be easily damaged. It can also be moved rapidly without breaking. So children can take their own time to learn their way – they can bump virtually into every chair, cupboard and table if need be. The Teacher can also program the robot to follow a prearranged path.
How to guide Cellulo was a big challenge for Foucqueteau while working on this project. He had to research about the programing interface, learn how to use it and alter it for his needs.
Now that Cellulo is programmed and ready for the classroom, Foucqueteau wants to build a collaborative treasure hunt, in which two children team up discover the virtual treasure on the map and the real treasure in the classroom.