Delivery robots are coming to the UT Austin campus for 5 years of training

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you plan to be at the University of Texas at Austin campus in the next five years, you might see dog-like robots walking around. Don’t worry, they are part of a study.

The fleet of robots will help researchers understand and improve the experience pedestrians who encounter them have, according to 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 adapting to the people who live and work around it.

“Robotic systems are becoming more and more common,” said Luis Sentis, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and project leader. “In addition to programming robots to perform a realistic task such as delivering supplies, we will be able to collect observations to help develop standards for safety, communication and behavior to enable these future systems to be useful and safe in our community.”

When the network goes live, members of the UT Austin community will be able to order free supplies like wipes and hand sanitizer through a smartphone app. Robots will deliver them to designated pedestrian areas on campus, door to door.

The researchers want to understand how the robots react during interactions with potentially hundreds of pedestrians while ensuring that their tasks are completed.

Researchers are studying human-AI partnerships through Good systems research grant challenge. The new $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation expands their six-year project Living and working with robotswhich starts in September 2021.

A grant to an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UT will support the creation of a robot delivery network, with the first deployments planned for early 2023.

The researchers plan to use two different types of dog-like robots made by Boston Dynamics and Unitree. In the later phases of the study, the robots will go out in teams of two, monitored by both attendants and humans from a distance. This means that researchers will always have the ability to stop the robots if necessary.

The team will explore ways to improve surveillance for the robot fleet. Nanshu Lu, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, will design wearable brain sensors to be placed on humans observing the robots to understand what kind of workload and attention span this will require.

Several professors in different schools at UT Austin will work on different aspects of the research.

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