Robots could clear snow, assist at crosswalks, monitor sidewalks for traffic


A new study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that when roboticists and people with disabilities collaborate on robot designs, interesting ideas emerge that could make existing robots more accessible and inspire new uses. In their research, School of Computer Science faculty members Sarah Fox and Nikolas Martelaro highlight potential issues sidewalk robots encounter during deployment and propose solutions to mitigate them before the robots hit the streets. Their new study, led by Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) Ph.D. student Howard Han, was presented last month at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2024). The paper is published on the arXiv preprint server. Sidewalk delivery robots have experienced a recent boom in popularity, especially during the pandemic. But their proliferation comes with conflict, as they typically compete with pedestrians for limited sidewalk space. For people with mobility disabilities, a robot on the sidewalk can eliminate the only safe path, like when a delivery robot at the University of Pittsburgh blocked a wheelchair user from accessing a ramp in 2019. The new research by Fox and Martelaro, both assistant professors in the HCII, draws on discussions they facilitated between roboticists and people with mobility disabilities to determine the most concerning accessibility problems and how robots can do better. In the study, they found that one reason accessibility accommodations aren't considered earlier in the design process is that most companies making sidewalk robots are startups, and things move quickly.

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