UTS developing robotic ‘Skype on wheels’

The university is developing a wheelchair, walker, hoist and telepresence device to assist elderly and disabled people

The University of Technology, Sydney Centre for Autonomous Systems (UTS CAS) is developing a robotic ‘Skype on wheels’ device that can assist elderly and disabled people.

Funded by the IRT Research Foundation, the wheelchair, walker, hoist and telepresence device works the same way an electronic stability system does in a car.

“You hit the brake, or you turn the steering, and the car goes in the direction you want,” Professor Gamini Dissanayake, director of UTS CAS, said.

The device is not fully automated so that users can control how much it assists them in their day-to-day activities based on their level of capability.

The hoist and walking frame will be deployed at an aged care home in Woonona within the next nine months where they will be trialled and could be made commercially available within two to three years.

“The emphasis is more about keeping the human intelligence and using the strengths of the robots to achieve joint tasks more effectively,” Dissanayake said.

“For two people to ever be able to put something together, they have to have an understanding of what each is trying to do. To get that same understanding into a robot is the research challenge, but I think we’re getting there.”

The university is also using robotics in its underground library to retrieve and store books upon request. UTS university librarian Mal Booth said it’s the first library retrieval system in the world to integrate RFID technology, which will be used to track and analyse data to help design its new library as part of a $1 billion upgrade of its city campus.

Last year, the university acquired a second generation personal robot (PR2) called ‘Gutsy’ from Silicon Valley start-up Willow Garage that can act autonomously and assist as a concierge, tour guide, security guard and cleaner.

The robot was built using a platform that allows PR2 users to share code through open source software with other universities such as Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Berkeley and Bosch in the US, as well as Japan’s University of Tokyo.

In May, UTS CAS signed an agreement with Zhejiang University in China to open a Joint Centre of Robotics Research to help tap into talent and foster collaboration in robotics innovation.

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