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Hockey-playing robot could be a lifesaver
U of M researchers, bot win prestigious industry event
A groundbreaking University of Manitoba-built robot that could one day help save lives blew away the competition at a recent industry event.
Jennifer won first place at the ICRA 2012 DARwIn-OP Humanoid Application Challenge in St. Paul, Minn., which was hosted by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.
There were more than 1,300 participants at the conference, which focuses on developing new applications for humanoid robots.
The robot — named after Winnipeg’s three-time Olympic gold medal-winning hockey player Jennifer Botterill — was programmed by students at the university’s Autonomous Agents Laboratory, directed by Prof. John Anderson and Prof. Jacky Baltes.
One key researcher said the team’s long-term goal is to contribute to building a humanoid robot that can save lives — "something like a robot firefighter."
"Right now, humanoid robots can walk very well across smooth, level ground with good traction — such as concrete, hardwood or tile," said Chris Iverach-Brereton, 26, a graduate student working on his master’s degree in computer science and the primary programmer for the lab’s DAR-wIn-OP robots.
"However, robots tend to fall over when they are forced to walk over uneven ground or ground with low friction. So for robots to be useful in the real world, they need to be able to move over all kinds of terrain.
"This is especially true if you consider what a robot firefighter or search-and-rescue worker would need to deal with. Rubble, loose gravel and other debris would be commonplace in such environments," he added.
To navigate these obstacles, Iverach-Brereton — who lives in St. Vital — and his team have been experimenting with the doll-sized robot on an ice surface.
"It has a similar level of flatness and smoothness as a concrete floor, but the friction is completely different," he said.
Iverach-Brereton said while teams at other universities have made robots that can roller-skate or take slap-shots, he believes Jennifer is the first humanoid robot in the world to skate on ice and play hockey.
"Right now, when you watch her move along, it looks like a very young child learning to skate. Our short-term goal is to get Jennifer to push off her skate with more force, so that she can build up enough speed to glide for a short distance on one skate," Iverach-Brereton said.
Baltes was thrilled the team scooped first place in the face of stiff competition and said they won a new DAR-wIn-OP robot, worth approximately $12,000, plus software totalling around $15,000.
The new, as-yet-unnamed, robot will join Jennifer and her siblings — Jeff (Stoughton) and Jimmy (Ball). The team can now work on multi-robot tasks, whether it’s two-on-two sports teams or four robots working towards a common goal, Iverach-Brereton said.
In August, the team will take Jimmy to Bristol, England for the HuroCup competition, where he will compete in eight different events.
Diana Carrier, 21, a third year undergraduate computer science student and team member, said working in the lab has been an incredible opportunity.
"I have always been fascinated with technology, specifically robots," said Carrier, who lives in Stonewall.
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(1 of 11 articles for this week)06/19/2013 1:00 AM 0