UTS unleashes winning robot design

5 September 2017

UTS Unleashed! team with Steve Wozniak

Photo: The UTS Unleashed! team with Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, Distinguished Professor of Technology in the UTS Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology

Our first robotics team, UTS Unleashed!, took on the world’s best at the biggest robot competition in Japan recently, with unexpected results.

UTS Unleashed!, the only Australian team to qualify for Robocup 2017, won the Human-Robot Interaction Award and has come second in the Social Special Platform League.

The league is a global competition to design robot behaviours that allow for interaction and collaboration with people in realistic home situations.

UTS Unleashed!, supported by the NSW Government’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program, comprised PhD students at UTS led by Australia’s leading social roboticist, Professor Mary-Anne Williams, Director of the UTS Magic Lab.

“As Australia’s leader in social robotics we focus on the disruptive nature of intelligent socially aware technologies. Social robots are not just automated problem solvers, they have emotional and social intelligence that allows them to collaborate with people in safe, fluent and enjoyable ways to enhance the human experience,” says Professor Williams.

“The team performed way beyond our expectations,” she adds. “We received the robots much later than other teams and faced tremendous technical challenges.”

Working together with SoftBank Robotics, UTS Unleashed! brought together a range of expertise including robot animation, human-robot interaction, machine learning, cognitive robotics, communication, sense reasoning and more. The team designed and developed a transdisciplinary social robot software system for their humanoid entry, Pepper, which was programmed to analyse and respond to human expression and voice.

The system enabled robot to human communication, the ability to navigate and map new environments, to sense and recognise objects and faces, and to perform adaptive behaviours in different human-centric situations.

The challenge of helping people empathise better with robots was to inject some personality into Pepper. Williams observes, “You can embed any personality in a robot. You can have a grumpy, bad-tempered robot or an overeager, helpful robot. But what’s important is that a robot’s traits and behaviours make sense to people and allow people to predict them.”