Four-legged autonomous delivery robots will be coming to the University of Texas early next year as part of a five-year campus study on interactions between people and robots.
UT researchers received a $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support creating a robot delivery network on campus, according to a UT media release. The team plans to study how robots and a community can co-exist and how to create, safely operate and maintain a robot network among humans.
“Robotic systems are becoming more ubiquitous,” said Luis Sentis, an engineering professor and leader of the project. “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.”
UT community members will be able to order supplies such as wipes and hand sanitizer through an app on their phone, and the robots, about the size of a medium-sized dog, will deliver them door to door on campus. The robots will go out in pairs and will be monitored by chaperones and people remotely – allowing them to stop the robots if needed.
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The researchers aim to understand what people expect of the robots when they encounter them, ensure the robots’ tasks are successfully completed, and find ways to improve oversight of the fleet of robots, according to the media release. They plan to use two separate robot models made by Boston Dynamics and Unitree.
The grant will allow researchers to expand on their six-year project known as Living and Working with Robots, which began in September 2021. They are studying human-artificial intelligence partnerships as part of the “Good Systems” research grand challenge, which UT launched in 2019 as part of an effort to design responsible AI technologies.
Several other universities in Texas and the U.S., including the University of Texas at Dallas and Southern Methodist University, already have small delivery robots on campus, largely from the company Starship Technologies, that deliver food from campus eateries.