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Professor helps create space-age guide dogs

Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Updated: Monday, August 9, 2010 14:08


Photo by Ryan Talbot

Vladimir Kulyukin, a computer science professor, poses beside one of his research group´s robots.

Don't let his easily mispronounced name scare you. Vladimir Kulyukin, assistant professor in the department of computer science, is only here to help - literally.

Professor Kulyukin's interests lie in the study of assistive technology, the technology that benefits the lives of people with disabilities.

"I'm interested in helping those with disabilities for two reasons," he said. "First, my brother has a hearing disability, so this affects me personally. Second, 90 percent of research in science and engineering is devoted to military means; it is technology that essentially takes away human life. I want to develop technologies that benefit and enhance life."

Professor Kulyukin was born and raised in Russia and later came to do his schooling under a professor he had long-admired at the University of Chicago. He has been at USU for three years now.

"I not only came to USU because they made me the best offer but also because USU has an excellent Center for Persons with Disabilities," he said.

Kulyukin works jointly as a computer science researcher and for the Center for Persons with Disabilities. He said he had an especially embarrassing moment here at the Center for Persons with Disabilities involving a robot and a speech recognition system.

"We figured we could speak to the robot in English, and using the voice recognition system the robot would interpret the commands and obey them. I quickly realized that just wasn't possible," he said.

He said a blind man found the glitch in the system when he cleared his throat and the robot misunderstood the sound to mean the man wanted to go to the bathroom.

"Every time the man cleared his throat, the robot would immediately change directions and guide him into the bathroom," he said.

"It was an especially embarrassing moment in my research," he added.

Professor Kulyukin said his current research project is in assisted navigation in dynamic and complex environments.

"Simply speaking, we are trying to develop a robot for use as a mobile grocery cart used for the blind in supermarkets," he said. "The robot would meet the blind person at the door and, by the push of a button, would lead the person to different areas of the store."

Kulyukin said the robot would ideally be mounted on mobile carts, but the level of funding for the technology here at USU is not sufficient for marketing the project.

Though the funds to market this innovation aren't available, he said members of the community have been helpful in testing the technology.

"Lee Badger, the owner of Lee's Marketplace grocery stores, has been very good to us," he said. "He has granted us access to his store and that was very helpful. We've actually had our robot in his store, navigating the aisles."

Kulyukin is currently teaching computer science 1700 and 2200, as well as robotics courses for graduate students.

"My favorite students are those that can do their homework independently, and show up on exam days," he said. "I don't mind if my students never come to class. That is evident because I make attendance optional."

Chaitanya Gharpure, a computer science major in his first year of USU's Ph.D. program, did his master's degree under Kulyukin. He said that while some might say Kulyukin is rigorous and strict when it comes to the homework he assigns, he didn't agree.

"I don't think Dr. Kulyukin is strict," Gharpure said. "I would say he is only as strict as a professor has to be. More than anything, he is fair."

Myra Cook, an academic advisor in the department of computer science, said she has great respect and admiration for Dr. Kulyukin. She said his studies are more than purely educational, they are also entertaining.

"Rolling robots that look like R2-D2 prototypes, a guide dog that is jealous of the robots, various configurations of masking tape on the floor, graduate students with an apparatus resembling something from the Jetsons strapped to their backs are all part and parcel of having my office next to Dr. Kulyukin's," she said. "Not only is it educational, it's full of surprises and lots of fun. Much of the fun is the fact Dr. Kulyukin will take the time to explain his research to me - a 'non-techie.'"

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