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New Brunswick teen creates robotic guide dog

Click to play video 'Moncton teen builds robot to help the visually impaired' Moncton teen builds robot to help the visually impaired
A Moncton teen with a passion for artificial intelligence built a robot she hopes would help people with visual impairments. Shelley Steeves has more. – Jun 11, 2020

A Moncton teen with a passion for artificial intelligence has created a robot she hopes will someday help guide people with visual impairments.

After watching a video about the hardships faced by some people who use guide dogs, 14-year-old Kaia Pejsa said she chose to design and build a robotic guide dog prototype for a STEM project at her school.

READ MORE: Meet Pepper – Canada’s first emotionally sensitive robot for sick kids

“My ultimate goal is to make the lives of other people better,” said Pejsa, who is a Grade 8 student at Magnetic Hill School in Moncton.

With some help from her father, Pejsa used materials from around her home to build the robot.

She named it “Sconewell”

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“It’s a play on words for ‘it’s going well,'” explained Pejsa.

She designed the robot in the shape of a German Shepherd after discovering that is was a breed commonly used as a guide dog, she said.

“I made some sketches on top of a picture of a German Shepherd and just marked out some lines with a ruler,” said Pejsa, who handmade the metal prototype shaped like a dog.

“Just like a guide dog [with a harness] he has a pole that comes up from his sides and you can grab onto it and he will lead you around,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘More vulnerable:’ Blind Canadians talk hardships of physical distancing amid coronavirus

She programmed sensors in the front of Sconewell so he can detect an obstacle and guide the user around it, she said.

Fer father, Robert Pejsa, was her helper and tester and he couldn’t be more proud of his daughter, he said.

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“She can actually make people’s lives tangibly better,” said Robert Pejsa.

CNIB Guide Dog President, Diane Bergeron, said robotic guide dogs may one day improve access to public places for people with visual impairments

“I just think that tapping into the intelligence and brainpower of our youth is spectacular. So, I think that it is fantastic that a young girl has done this,” said Bergeron.

A robotic dog may also benefit people with allergies or those who simply don’t want the responsibility of caring for a live animal, said Bergeron.

MORE: Freedom, independence and a lifelong partnership: The power of a guide dog

“Even though there is legislation to protect us in being refused access there is still a lot of people who don’t know about the law or decide that it is not that important,” she said.

Pejsa plans to study robotics once she’s old enough to go to university and said she hopes that one day she can perfect and mass-produce a whole litter of Sconewells.

“I hope that I can get it to a point that it can do everything that an actual guide dog can do and more and he can just improve the lives of everyone,” she said.

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