We saw Toyota's take on the potential for robotic healthcare assistants earlier this week, and now Japan's NSK has released an update on their robotic guide dog project. The manufacturer has reached the third prototype of the dog, which now makes use of Microsoft's Kinect camera to map the terrain around it, helping to avoid obstacles and climb stairs. The latest design has a far more natural skeleton than previous versions, meaning that the dog is able to climb and descend stairs almost as fast as a human — a dramatic improvement over its crab-like older brother. Other improvements include a better 'leash' and feet designed to prevent collisions.

While NSK now includes voice control to allow for more natural interaction with the robot, there's still a long way to go before it's as capable as its living, breathing counterparts. However, the possibilities of an assistant with GPS, maps and real-time information could prove invaluable to the blind and partially sighted. For a look at how the dog walks, check out the video below.