Developing a Robot Guide Dog for People with Visual Impairment

PhD student Hochul Hwang’s robotics, computer vision, and human-computer interaction research seeks to design robots that can improve the mobility of blind and visually impaired individuals.
UMass computer science PhD student Hochul Hwang

A student in the MS-PhD program in computer science in UMass Amherst’s Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences, Hochul Hwang points to an unfortunate accident he experienced as the inspiration behind his research project.

Hwang, who hails from Seoul, Republic of Korea, was unable to walk for two months after tearing ligaments in his knee. “I realized that mobility is a very important feature for your quality of life,” he says, noting that other individuals with similar experiences have echoed this sentiment.

Hwang works in the Dynamic and Autonomous Robotic Systems Lab with advisor Donghyun Kim, where he conducts research on robotics, computer vision, and human-computer interaction. He is working on a guide dog robotic development project to build a four-legged robot that functions as a guide dog.

Before designing the robot, Hwang and his collaborators conducted about 25 interviews—with blind and visually impaired people as well as guide dog handlers and trainers—to better understand how guide dogs help with navigation. Based on those interviews, they are now building a navigation system for the robot so it can safely and efficiently help guide blind and visually impaired people.

In this video, learn more about how Hwang first connected with his advisor, his friendships in the lab, and why he loves the town of Amherst.

Learn more about the MS-PhD program in computer science at UMass Amherst, ranked among the top 25 programs in the country.