Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin campus will launch a five-year study surrounding the creation and safe operation of a robot network on campus. Spot from Boston Dynamics and a model from Unitree will be used as part of the project.
Once ready for testing, people on the UT Austin campus can use an app to order free supplies, which robots will deliver to designated spots on campus. Throughout each delivery journey, researchers are curious to see how pedestrians on campus react to the robots.
Between observations and interviews, researchers want to gain insight into how humans feel about the robots sharing the world alongside them. This type of insight will prove beneficial to robot designers working on public-facing products and services.
As recognized by Luis Sentis, professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UT Austin:
"Robotic systems are becoming more ubiquitous. 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."
During later phases of research, robots will be deployed in pairs, with researchers monitoring them in person and remotely. This oversight ensures the ability to step in if there is some kind of unforeseen problem that occurs.
In the US, much of the focus on autonomous robots focuses on delivery and helping humans run errands. People that live or work in heavily urbanized areas have a higher chance of seeing autonomous delivery robots and similar solutions.
Creators must be cognizant to understand how pedestrians interact with any autonomous solution so both the robot and humans can carry about their activities. And this requires developing a robot and being able to run trial runs to identify areas of improvement.