Creator of Lysa
“Developing Lysa is a dream that has taken many years of struggle and dedication”
The Brazilian project Lysa was one of the highlights of this year’s edition of the Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards. Winner in the Prevention and Mobility category, it is a guide robot that evokes a future that is already here. And at the same time, it exudes a certain nostalgia for the dogs that make life easier for the visually impaired and that may no longer be necessary thanks to artificial intelligence. It is not a coincidence that its name refers to the one Steve Jobs gave to his first operating system.
How did you first come up with the idea of creating Lysa?
It was in 2011, when I was working as a robotics teacher in a public school. I challenged my students to think of projects related to that subject which could change the world. Then I remembered a former student who was visually impaired and I thought that it would be a good idea to develop something with people like this in mind. There were so many possibilities! That led me to see how to translate the idea into an effective product that could be used by millions of people around the world.
What are the advantages of a robot over a guide dog?
A guide dog needs to be cared for and trained to be able to properly support visually impaired people. This is expensive. Here in Brazil, for example, it can be as much as 25,000€, not to mention veterinary expenses, food and other treatments. In addition, the animal’s life span is, unfortunately, limited.
Lysa, then, is a more affordable solution for thousands of visually impaired people.
A Lysa costs about 5500€, with some variable addons depending on its implementation in different spaces. But on average it costs one-fifth as much as a conventional dog. It comes ready to use, is rechargeable, and more effective in terms of safety and precise locomotion. Properly maintained, it can last a lifetime!
Who would be the typical user of a Lysa?
The robot is designed to guide all types of visually impaired people, but it can also be used by people who have difficulty moving in very large spaces, such as the elderly, for example. It guarantees the safety and autonomy of these people because it is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and is specially programmed for this purpose.
It is surprising that a robot can avoid obstacles better than a guide dog.
This is one of the features that users love the most, the ability to warn of obstacles above the waist, and go around them. A dog generally does not identify these and this can end up causing accidents. This also happens with imperfections in the road, like holes: Lysa detects them and then alerts the user.
And how does it manage to get around all these obstacles?
Lysa is equipped with mature Artificial Intelligence that allows it to map the environment by triangulating the points along the route.
When the user specifies the desired location, Lysa calculates the safest route and guides you from point A to B, going around obstacles and informing you that they are in your path.
A bit like when we use Google Maps, for example…
I would like to point out that, currently, Lysa is designed to be used in enclosed environments, such as shopping malls, hospitals and even the subway. For the time being, it does not access any outdoor settings. But we are working hard to develop a robot that can go outside. It is a process that demands a lot of different studies and adaptations, because we are dealing with lives and we want to guarantee the safety of the users.
In the meantime, what other advantages does Lysa offer?
It is portable, weighs about 3 kilos, so it is easy to handle. This provides more freedom, independence, safety and accessibility. Lysa’s technology still cannot negotiate stairs, however, as it is a portable and lightweight robot it can be picked up easily, so this should not be an obstacle for the user.
What if it runs out of battery?
The battery lasts about 8 hours with normal use, and it can be recharged in a regular socket through its USB cable.
What will you be able to invest the 40,000€ prize money in?
We will implement further features in Lysa, we will be able to do more in-depth testing and make new developments to increase the safety for users and allow them to access different environments. In addition, we will be able to donate some units to locations where people need them, including hospitals, schools, orphanages, and places where there are people who need accessibility support and can’t afford it.
Who did you think of when you found out you were one of the winners?
The first thing that came to mind was my family and how much I wanted them to be there with me wrapped up in a big hug. Developing Lysa is a dream that has taken many years of struggle and dedication, which at times ends up distancing me from my family, from my children, who have always supported me and given me the strength to continue. They were watching the online broadcast of the ceremony and I am sure that even from a distance they were there giving me all their support, so I wanted them to be very proud of me at that moment and always.