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The PR2 shows the soft side of hard research in robotics

PhD student Rony Novianto with the PR2. Picture by Benjamin Johnston

PhD student Rony Novianto with the PR2. Picture by Benjamin Johnston

In summary:

  • UTS is the first university in Australia to acquire a PR2 second generation personal robot, designed to assist individuals to become more productive at work or at home
  • It will enable UTS and its research partners to explore new challenges in social robotics and smart digital ecosystems
  • The robot is the subject of a naming competition, open to UTS staff, students and to the wider public

Clever, collaborative and gentle… not just your ideal human partner, but the attributes of Australia's first PR2 robot acquired by UTS.

A second generation personal robot, the PR2, designed to assist individuals to become more productive at work or at home, brings UTS into an international research community of universities with PR2s that includes Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and Hamburg.

This personal robot has the ability to navigate complex, uncertain and changing human environments. It can also grasp, lift and manipulate physical objects using precision pincer-like grasp, but due to its highly sophisticated physical awareness, the PR2 is safe around people and has the necessary responsiveness to be gentle in its physical interactions.

The Dean of Enginnering and IT Professor Hung Nguyen and Professor Mary-Anne WilThe Dean of Engineering and IT Professor Hung Nguyen and Professor Mary-Anne Williams with the new robot. Picture by Benjamin Johnston

"Working with a PR2 will ensure our robotics research will have a greater impact because it allows UTS to connect and collaborate with other leading robotics labs," said Professor Mary-Anne Williams, head of the UTS Magic Lab and Associate Dean (Research and Development) in the Faculty of Engineering and IT.

"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.
 
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."

In time, the UTS PR2 will be out and about in the new Faculty of Engineering and IT building and will communicate with the smart building management systems, elevators, fire alarms and mobile phones, with the aim of  helping and delighting the building's human inhabitants.

"Robots are becoming increasingly prevalent in society. The UTS PR2 will help us explore some of the pressing issues that arise when robots and people live and work closely together," Professor Williams said.

"Robots already have sensory perception and physical strength beyond human capability, so the field of social robotics presents many new important design challenges around how to develop robots that can pay attention, anticipate outcomes, behave intelligently and cooperate seamlessly with people. The new field of social robotics is in its infancy and UTS now stands at the forefront ready to advance the frontier," said Professor Williams.

The PR2 robot will be the subject of a naming competition, open to UTS staff, students and to the wider public. Participants will be asked to suggest a name for the robot and provide a 140 character explanation as to why the name is a good fit. The winner will receive an Android mobile phone and a tour of the UTS Magic Lab where they will be able to interact with and manoeuvre the PR2 using their new mobile phone.

Would you like to name the new UTS robot? Visit the UTS PR2 website, think of the coolest robot name ever and enter your details for a chance to win.

Claire Thompson

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