The University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS) has acquired a sophisticated agile mobile robot (SPOT), in what is a first for academia in South Africa and on the African continent. The robot, which is manufactured by Boston Dynamics® in the United States of America, is a ‘dog’ that can navigate terrains with unprecedented mobility under a considerably heavy load.
Researchers at the IIS intend to use it to help in the development and testing of sophisticated AI algorithms and 4IR-driven solutions for various application areas such as healthcare, disaster management, construction, mining, and industrial inspection and maintenance. This is part of IIS’s ongoing initiative to advance UJ’s Global Excellence and Stature (GES4.0) catalytic initiative, as underpinned by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
Professor Babu Paul, IIS Director, said the acquisition of the SPOT was to develop robotics and advance academic training at the University.
“It is the first in academia in South Africa. We will be developing applications on top of it to do different kinds of things. For instance, 4IR-driven solutions for contactless vital signs measurement and symptom evaluation in pandemic scenarios that minimize the exposure of medical personnel to infection can be independently developed and mounted on the robot ‘dog’ platform and tested,” he said.
“In other applications, such as disaster management and mining operations, where direct human involvement will be very dangerous and undesirable, 4IR solutions can be integrated into the robot ‘dog’ system as added functionalities to perform the desired tasks.”
The robot ‘dog’, which is yet to be given a name, can be controlled using a controller or be programmed to move around on its own. It can be taken for a walk, climb stairs, run and even hop. The University will be developing capabilities on it to monitor on campus activities and even test temperatures to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, UJ added that Spot marks a new milestone in the work of IIS. “The University is at the cutting edge of technology, embracing 4IR effectiveness. We are going to see these robots become part of our academic agenda. Robotics is the future. Our students are going to be able to learn how our factories will look in the future. This is a visual depiction of what our students learn in the Artificial Intelligence course.”