AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you’re planning on being on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus within the next five years, you may see dog-like robots roaming around. Don’t be alarmed, they’re part of a study.
The fleet of robots will help researchers understand and improve the experience that pedestrians who run into them have, according to a press release. A five-year study is planned for them, which will focus on what it takes to create, safely operate, and maintain a robot delivery network, while also adapting with the humans who live and work around it.
“Robotic systems are becoming more ubiquitous,” said Luis Sentis, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and leader of the project. “In addition to programming robots to perform a realistic task such as delivering supplies, we will be able to gather observations to help develop standards for safety, communication and behavior to allow these future systems to be useful and safe in our community.”
When the network is up and running, members of the UT Austin community will be able to order free supplies such as wipes and hand sanitizer via a smartphone app. The robots will deliver them to certain pedestrian zones on campus, door-to-door.
Researchers want to understand how the robots respond during interactions with potentially hundreds of pedestrians while ensuring their tasks are completed.
The researchers study human-AI partnerships through the Good Systems research grant challenge. The new $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation expands on their six-year project Living and Working with Robots, which kicked off in September 2021.
A grant to an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UT will support the creation of the robot delivery network, with the first deployments scheduled for early 2023.
The researchers plan to use two different types of dog-like robots made by Boston Dynamics and Unitree. In later phases of the research, the robots will go out in teams of two, monitored both by chaperones and people remotely. This means researchers will always have the ability to stop the robots if necessary.
The team will study ways to improve oversight for a fleet of robots. Nanshu Lu, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, will design wearable brain sensors to be placed on the people monitoring the robots to understand the kind of workload and attention span this would require.
Several professors within different UT Austin schools will work on different aspects of the study.