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Robotics gains a new focus at Vic

13 December 2005

Robotics gains a new focus at Vic

Designing and building robots that can operate without human intervention will be one of the options available for postgraduate science students at Victoria University in 2006.

The University is launching a new major in electronic and computer systems engineering in the Master of Science programme to be led by New Zealand robotic expert, Associate Professor Dale Carnegie.

Associate Professor Carnegie joined Victoria earlier this year from Waikato University, where he established its programme in mechatronics in the early 1990s. While Victoria has offered some robotics courses in the past, mechatronics is a new field that combines mechanical, electronic and software engineering with sensors, physics, mathematics, marketing and design.

Drawing on the resources of the Schools of Chemical & Physical Sciences, Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science and Design, the programme, which begins next year, includes a blend of courses on artificial intelligence, mechatronics, software engineering, physics and mathematics, with hands on work in making robotic devices.

“From my experience, students will enjoy this new programme because it gives them the ability to take theory and knowledge and put it into practice by building working robots of their own. They can either work in groups on large projects or alone on smaller projects and the options are flexible enough to suit students whose interests are in electronics, software or mechanics.”

Associate Professor Carnegie says the future of robotics is in mechatronics and the creation of autonomous robots that do not need human intervention to carry out their work.

“We’re all used to seeing those massive and expensive robots used throughout the world to build cars. They accurately and repetitively complete the same task over and over and while they’re very successful at doing that, they cannot handle any variation.

“My group has created a robot, Marvin – short for Mobile Autonomous Robotic Vehicle for Indoor Navigation – who works as a security guard, moving through office corridors after hours, questioning people he meets. Through voice recognition and scanning technology he works out who is allowed to be in the office, alerting security guards when he meets people who should not be there. He can emotionally respond to people he meets and his size increases to intimidate a stranger.”

The creation of autonomous robots is a potential new industry for New Zealand, he says. “We will never be able to compete against the massive robotic manufacturers in Japan and Taiwan, but we can create robots to carry out repetitive but varied manual tasks in niche industries. The potential is simply unlimited. My students have already made robots that can autonomously move through a farm, checking pasture quality. Such robots could be used to move through a forest, assessing the size and number of trees ready to be felled. One day they might even carry out the logging as robotic lumberjacks.”

Dean of Science, Professor David Bibby, says the new programme offered an exciting, new option for students.

“While Victoria has offered courses in robotics, mechatronics is a fascinating new field that offers both theoretical knowledge and hands on experience. Associate Professor Carnegie is putting together a programme that draws on knowledge from throughout the University from disciplines as diverse as software engineering and design. “


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