ORLANDO, Fla. – A new “robot dog” built with leading-edge technology will help expand research opportunities for University of Central Florida students and faculty.


The doglike robot, manufactured by Boston Dynamics, a leader in robotic technology, will be used by students to research concepts such as human and robot interactions and to develop new robot tasks and applications that benefit humanity.


The robot, which UCF has named Tape Measure, was recently unveiled to the general student population during a campus stroll. There were many surprised and some slightly puzzled faces, but students gave him a warm UCF welcome.


“Tape Measure offers almost limitless capabilities,” said Crystal Maraj, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the UCF Institute for Simulation and Training (IST), School of Modeling, Simulation and Training (SMST). “Tape Measure is programmed to perform a range of specific tasks, but it can also be customized to execute new tasks. That is where the learning comes in for us and the robot.”


The manufacturer equipped Tape Measure with the most advanced robot technology available today and allowed students to add to its capabilities. It touts the LiDAR [light detection and ranging] system – fitted on its head for navigation, and it is preprogrammed with quadruped navigation for balance and navigating self-autonomously. Its core I/O processor maximizes the range of autonomous tasks that can be performed.


Students will conduct research and collect data, but they will also add to Tape Measure’s capabilities, exploring the boundaries of its potential.


Robotics research at UCF SMST is not new. Faculty and students have been exploring the technology since 1982, producing successful robotic projects for military and other uses.


“Tape Measure allows our students to see how their work can be applied in different ways,” said Grace Bochenek, Ph.D., director of UCF SMST. “Research is often not a linear line, and we build on each other’s work. This robot, although different than our other projects, integrates many of the same principles. It is a continuation, not a culmination, of the technology.”


Tape Measure isn’t the only robotic dog on campus. The UCF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has 15 smaller, commercially available robot dogs manufactured by Unitree Robotics. They will occupy the department’s new robotics labs in the Barbara Ying Center, where the robots will provide students with hands-on training and serve as state-of-the-art teaching and research tools.


The robot dogs from Unitree will interact by taking in information – recording images and sounds using cameras and microphones. They are able to process that information to perceive their environment, detect when a human talks to it, and then react to that perception with mechanical motion. For example, the robot may move an object from one place to another in response to a command from a student.


UCF students are also eager to begin working with Tape Measure.


“It is an incredible opportunity,” said Dwight Howard, Ph.D. student and president of the UCF Robotics Club.“ I’ve imagined working with robotics this sophisticated since I began studying modeling and simulation. We are developing the future, and students are a major part of that discovery.”


Lori Walters, Ph.D., research associate professor, UCF SMST and Department of History, has an immediate use for Tape Measure. As a historian, Walters maps landscapes and buildings with a terrestrial scanner that she physically moves from place to place. She is currently manually scanning buildings in communities surrounding Cape Canaveral in order to replicate these areas as they looked during the hay day of the space boom. In the future, Walters may assign part of the task to Tape Measure by mounting a scanner to the robot so it can move the equipment, potentially even accessing areas that she and the team cannot reach or might be unsafe to work.


“We are not trying to replace the human with the robot,” said Joseph Kider, Ph.D., associate professor, UCF SMST. “We want to understand where the human and the robot collaborate. We want to make the technology more accessible and involve people across the university, not just the engineers.”


Students will begin proposing their robot research projects involving Tape Measure to faculty in the next several weeks, and they are expected to begin executing them later in the year.


“We are eager to see our students’ ideas.” Maraj said. “Their vision, their enthusiasm for discovery! I never get tired of that.”


Similar robots built by Boston Dynamics are being used at the University of California Los Angeles for telemedicine and the University of Texas in Austin, where they deliver sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer across campus. Both universities are also studying the behavior and interactions between robots and humans. Manufacturing, chemical and oil and gas industries around the world are using similar robots to perform tasks unsafe for humans.


About UCF School of Modeling, Simulation and Training


UCF SMST has been pioneering emergent MS&T technology for more than 40 years, partnering with NASA, the Department of Defense and large industry. It is home to an internationally recognized, interdisciplinary institute conducting technology-based human-centric research affecting society — from health care to national defense and education to manufacturing. The school is solving some of today’s most challenging issues through technologies, like virtual and augmented reality, advanced modeling and simulation, and digital twin, including the digital human. Its more than 200 researchers, faculty and student interns are unleashing the potential of people and technology and creating tomorrow’s technology leaders through its graduate-degree program. It is one of the foremost academic research institutes in the field of modeling and simulation.


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