The University of Sunderland is using a robot dog to support students applying technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to real-world situations.
One of the early possible uses of the quadrupedal robot, known as Bernard (pictured above), is in search and rescue, which inspired its name.
John Murray, a professor in the university’s faculty of technology, which has about 500 students, said the robot, from Boston Dynamics, will play an important role in helping students in the department apply the latest technologies to real-life environments.
“One of the reasons we bought it was to teach students the latest developments in engineering and computer science, bringing together lots of different technologies such as AI and kinermatics,” said Murray.
The dog was acquired as a basic robot with some sensors and a remote control to drive it, creating a platform for development. “We are putting the intelligence into it,” added Murray. The university department is currently working on projects to apply the technology in the real world.
“Students will be predominantly using it in their studies, but we are also looking at projects including one in search and rescue,” said Murray. “The robot has sensors that can be put on it, such as a lidar sensor that allows it to map out environments. It’s autonomous, so can navigate itself around.”
The faculty is also looking at whether a robot like this could be used for factory inspections and similar tasks.
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Applying the technology to industry and other human challenges will become a core part of courses in the faculty. “When students are progressing and get to do their projects, they will get to work with it and come up with novel uses and applications for it,” said Murray. “Project students will also have the opportunity to take on final year and MSc dissertation projects that use the robot, where they can look at writing code, designing sensors, evaluating applications of the robot for industrial applications and projects.”
But he stressed that the idea is much than just the robot dog. “The robot is a really good platform that the engineering computer science students can engage with, but it is more about understanding the fundamentals and how they will apply what they have learnt in industry,” he said.
The technology that goes into creating, designing, programming and controlling the robot will be embedded into the curriculum.
This is part of a wider technology education project at the University of Sunderland, and Murray said the university is currently investing into the faculty of technology. “Bernard is one of the most, if not the most, advanced quadrupedal robot in development, and there are only a handful of other universities in the UK that have access to this technology,” he said.
“As we are reimagining computer science and engineering, Bernard sits at the forefront of these disciplines with the latest engineering and computing technology.”
The robot will also be used to promote technology and the university’s faculty of technology at outreach events, open days and recruitment.