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Students develop a personal robot to improve quality of life

Canterbury students develop a personal robot to improve quality of life

July 11, 2014

A group of University of Canterbury students are developing a personal robot with the aim of bringing robotics to people to improve quality of life.

Psychology PhD student Kyle Wilson, physics and finance graduate Owen Flanagan and electrical engineering graduate Luke Schwartfeger are the co-founders of the SelfieBot company and its first personal robot.

``In the future we see drones as becoming almost ubiquitous. They could be used for tasks such as home surveillance, accompanying people on jogs and walking you home after dark,’’ Wilson says.

``We recognise the potential drones have to benefit our lives in the near future. Most drone applications are industrial or commercial but we believe there are massive possibilities in the area of personal robotics.’’

The team are carrying out substantial testing, which is playing a vital role in dictating any changes made to the engineering of the device, as well as future direction of the product. Wilson says his research demonstrates that University of Canterbury students can be at the forefront of the technological revolution in New Zealand, regardless of the field their degree is from.

``While there are drones that can follow people on a jog, none so far can reliably follow someone indoors without crashing into a wall or objects. We believe we have the solution. Our SelfieBot product is a small camera drone which we think can change the way personal photographs are taken.

``No piloting is required. The user simply places the SelfieBot in the air like a floating camera and it can hold its position. The SelfieBot can change the way in which selfies are taken. Selfies will no longer be restricted by an arm’s length. They will effectively be hands-free and can include more people in a picture and who can do more than just pose at a close-up range,’’ Wilson says.

SelfieBot - the company - is an active member of University of Canterbury Innovators for bright business ideas and is working out of The Hatchery entrepreneur centre run by Dr Rachel Wright. The students are just a month away from having a functional prototype and they are planning to use Kickstarter later in the year to crowd-fund the SelfieBot.

``If we are successful this will be a great for New Zealand business. Confidence from overseas and New Zealand national investors means we will spend their money in New Zealand rather than on overseas ventures.

Psychology is a science that powerfully contributes to the future of New Zealand. Value-added products must be those that appeal to the end-users, the public, and psychology is a critical ingredient in the design process. Wilson is using that knowledge to help the engineering and commerce students in their development of the personal robot.

Wilson’s supervisor Professor Deak Helton says psychology training is helpful to an electronics hardware start-up because understanding human behaviour and capabilities is the best way to design products, equipment and systems for effective, satisfying, and safe use.

``This is an excellent example of how psychology training can result in awesome innovation and help move New Zealand forward,” Professor Helton says.

``This may encourage students who think innovation is only about engineering and do not grasp that fields like psychology have a massive role to play in the development of user friendly products which will appeal to the market.’’


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