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UTS unleashes team to deliver social robot software

26 June 2017

Pepper joins the Unleashed team! Image: Leah Lucas

UTS is the only Australian team to qualify for the 2017 RoboCup@Home Social Robot League, a competition that requires teams to design robot behaviours that allow for interaction and collaboration with people in realistic home situations. 

Team ‘UTS Unleashed!’ will represent Australian research and innovation in social robotics at RoboCup with support from the NSW government’s Research Attraction and Acceleration Program.

Team members are PhD students at the University of Technology Sydney led by Australia’s leading social roboticist, Professor Mary-Anne Williams, Director of the UTS ‘Magic Lab’.

 “As Australia’s leader in social robotics we focus on the disruptive nature of intelligent socially aware technologies.  Social robots are not just automated problem solvers, they have emotional and social intelligence that allows them to collaborate with people in safe, fluent and enjoyable ways to enhance the human experience,” said Professor Williams.

“By participating in RoboCup we can benchmark new algorithms and intelligent software against some of the world’s top universities including Carnegie Mellon University, University of Rome, and the University of Amsterdam.”

Team Unleashed! brings together a range of expertise that will contribute to the design and development of an innovative transdisciplinary social robot software system.  The human members and their skills are

  • Sam Pfeiffer - robot animation
  • Meg Tonkin - human-robot interaction
  • Jonathan Vitale - cognitive robotics
  • Ali Raza - machine learning
  • Suman Ojha - robot emotions and ethics
  • Sidra Alam - robot cooperation
  • Chand Gudi - robot communication
  • Le Kang -  robot knowledge bases
  • Benjamin Johnston - robot common sense reasoning
  • Xun Wang - robot risk management
  • Richard Billingsley - natural language understanding
  • Jesse Clark – robot knowledge management systems
  • Thomas MacKenzie and Sophie Phillips – disruptive innovation.

The humanoid is Pepper, a human-shaped robot from industry partner Softbank Robotics, which can be programmed to analyse and respond to human expression and voice.

The team will design and develop complex AI software that will enable a robot to communicate with humans, navigate and map new environments, sense and recognise objects and faces, and perform adaptive behaviours in different human-centric situations.

“Teams from around the world face significant design challenges in preparing Pepper robots to respond to interact and collaborate with people in real world situations that will arise in smart homes of the future. For UTS, engagement in RoboCup provides transformational leadership opportunities and transdisciplinary practice-based learning experiences for our students,” said Professor Williams.

UTS Unleashed! will help to enhance critical national capability in social robotics, an emerging disruptive technology that, according to the McKinsey Research Institute, will impact every Australian industry in the next few years. Team members will engage in discovery and transdisciplinary innovation, and will be able to test, evaluate and reflect on their transdisciplinary solutions using benchmark challenges at this major international competition. 

They will also contribute to a global strategic scientific effort that seeks to make safe and intelligent social robots a reality.

RoboCup 2017 takes place in Nagoya, Japan 27 – 30 July.