Robot goes from hockey skates to skis

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There's something oddly other-than-human about that skier adeptly navigating the slopes of the downhill ski run at the University of Manitoba.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/02/2015 (2920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

wfpvideo:4035041892001:wfpvideo

There’s something oddly other-than-human about that skier adeptly navigating the slopes of the downhill ski run at the University of Manitoba.

Slaloming ever so adroitly, the knees not even squeaking, conquering the snowy, icy slope, millimetre by millimetre.

Something oddly familiar, if you picture that skier in skates.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jennifer, the first hockey-playing robot, was built at the University of Manitoba and featured on science TV shows. Now, she's taken to the slopes, although she's not ready for the black diamond runs.

It’s Jennifer, the first hockey-playing robot, built at the U of M by students in the Autonomous Agents Laboratory. The doll-sized robot won an international competition in 2012 for its ability to skate and play hockey. Now, the team has taught it to ski both cross-country and downhill.

“It uses skills we’ve been building on for years,” explained Prof. John Anderson, head of computer science in the faculty of science. “It’s the same physical (skating) robot, but with different software.”

The robot took to the slopes Thursday — a little bit of landscaping outside the engineering building. Hey, you want serious downhill runs, try the Rockies.

“Proportionally speaking, it’s Garbage Hill for robots,” laughed Anderson.

Jennifer has been trying out cross-country and alpine skiing for the U of M’s application for the 2015 DARwIn-OP Humanoid Application Challenge in Seattle in May.

Sharp-eyed readers may point out Seattle doesn’t have snow in May, let alone now, so the U of M scientists will take along some form of low-friction surface.

Jennifer was named after Jennifer Botterill, Manitoba’s three-time Olympic gold-medal winner in Olympic hockey.

“It flexes its joints to shift from side to side and control speed,” said Anderson. “It can survive a minor tumble — I wouldn’t send it down a black diamond hill.”

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Computer science Prof. Jacky Baltes (left) and computer science graduate student Chris Iverach-Brereton with Jennifer, who was built at the University of Manitoba and featured on science TV shows.

It? But the robot is named Jennifer.

“People that work with robots tend to anthropomorphize them,” chuckled Anderson. “I won’t say it gets to the creepy level.”

Jennifer is a YouTube star at http://bit.ly/1z7SUHv.

The Autonomous Agents Laboratory’s goal is the improvement of technology related to robots’ hardware and software as well as the development of applications employing the technology, said Anderson.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Friday, February 6, 2015 6:30 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds video, changes headline

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