Don’t get up — let the PR2 robot get your beer for you

A new robot at UTS will eventually guide users around the building

The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has acquired a new robot that is capable of fetching beer from the fridge and a sandwich from Subway.

The robot, which has been under development for about five years, can perform a variety of human-like movements, such as grabbing, lifting and manipulating objects.

The second generation PR2 (personal robot) has been designed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley to assist individuals to be more productive both at home and at work. Willow Garage was founded by Scott Hassan, a software architect/developer who previously worked at Google, and is a privately-funded research company looking to advance robotic technology in autonomous devices.

“They created Willow Garage to accelerate the development of non-military robotics and advance open source robotics software,” professor Mary-Anne Williams told Computerworld Australia, head of the UTS Magic Lab and associate dean (research and development) in the Faculty of Engineering and IT.

The PR2 has also primarily been designed for the service industry to work with people and carry out functions such as cleaning, cooking and speaking.

It can act autonomously and is capable of opening doors, playing pool, retrieving lunch from Subway and getting beer from the fridge.

“Robots use a so-called sense-think-act cycle. They sense their motors/body parts and the surroundings and they process the sensory information, and using it together with their knowledge/beliefs, they enact an action, such as lift an arm, turn their head, etc,” Williams said.

“Social robots are designed to interact with people and other robots – they can share information and collaborate.”

The development of the PR2 will allow UTS to collaborate with other robotics labs around the world.

“The PR2 uses open source software so staff and students can share the robot behaviours and skills they develop at UTS with researchers in the PR2 community. As a result, UTS will have an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with leading universities like Stanford, Berkeley and MIT,” Williams said in a statement.

“The PR2 will add tremendous value to a wide range of research projects currently underway at UTS and enable us to explore new challenges in social robotics and smart digital ecosystems with our research partners.”

The robot will eventually walk the halls of the Faculty of Engineering and IT at UTS and interact with smart building management systems, such as mobile phones, fire alarms and elevators to help building users.

However, the PR2 is not the first robot to be used by UTS.

“UTS currently has a robot working on the Harbour Bridge helping the maintenance team do a better job and undertaking the difficult and dangerous aspects of their work,” Williams said.

“The new UTS library will also be serviced by robots [where] the robots will retrieve books that people request.”

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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