The University of Texas at Austin is creating a campus delivery system that will use autonomous dog-like robots to distribute materials.
The university says that when the network is up and running, people on the Austin campus will be able to order free supplies such as wipes and hand sanitizer via a smartphone app and the robots will deliver them to certain pedestrian zones on campus, door-to-door.
University researchers are planning for the first deployment of the robots for early 2023. The researchers plan a five-year study focusing on what it takes to create, safely operate and maintain this kind of robot network, while also adapting with the humans who live and work around it.
“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," says Luis Sentis, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and leader of the project.
The study will employ 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 researchers expect to gain insights from observing and interviewing people who encounter the robots in a variety of contexts. They are seeking to develop tools for understanding the full range of experiences that result from encountering robots on campus. This work could help designers figure out how future public-facing robots should be designed to co-exist within diverse communities like the University of Texas campus, as well as how and where they should move.
University researchers are studying human-AI partnerships through the Good Systems research grand challenge. A $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.