Vietnam tries robots to help people cross busy streets

In Vietnam, crossing the road can feel like a life or death experience.

Busy urban thoroughfares are choked with scooters and other vehicles, which rarely stop for pedestrians, as seen in many YouTube videos.

A group of university students has deployed a humanoid robot to help people get from one side of the road to another.

The researchers from Duy Tan University in central Vietnam installed the humanoid on a wheeled platform and have experimented with it at zebra crossings in Da Nang, according to Vietnamese news media reports.

The 1.9-meter-tall (6 feet, 3 inches) machine, clad in a uniform and helmet and grasping a baton in its right hand, cuts an imposing figure. It has an array of ultrasonic sensors to help it navigate and can also speak prerecorded phrases to introduce itself to users.

When pedestrians want to cross the street, they grasp its left hand and push a red button. The robot then automatically leads them through traffic to the other side of the road. Once it's across, the machine says goodbye, turns around and rolls back to its starting point.

Each crossing takes one and a half to two minutes and the robot's batteries can power it for 50 crossings, according to VietNamNet Newspaper, which added that the machine also chides motorists when it detects "traffic-law violators."

The robot was developed by electrical engineering students Nguyen Cong Tin, Vo Thanh Nghia and Ha Kim Tung and could be deployed along major roads in Da Nang, VietNamNet said.

The students aren't the only ones to experiment with robot crossing guides. In 2012, Samsung Electronics filed a U.S. patent for a system in which guide robots move along rails embedded in crosswalks while helping pedestrians get across the road.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Tim Hornyak

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