University of Texas Tests Autonomous Delivery Robots

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Autonomous robots will soon rove the buildings and streets of The University of Texas at Austin campus. But unlike other commercial delivery services, this fleet of robots will help researchers understand and improve the experience of pedestrians who encounter them.

A new grant to an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UT Austin will support the creation of a robot delivery network on campus, with the first deployments scheduled for early 2023. The researchers plan a five-year study focusing on what it takes to create, safely operate and maintain this kind of robot network, while also adapting with the humans who live and work around it.

The team’s research promises to become the most extensive data about human-robot encounters in public spaces to date. Over time, the team will learn how state-of-the-art robotic autonomy and a real-world community can best co-exist.

“Robotic systems are becoming more ubiquitous,” said Luis Sentis, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and leader of the project. “In addition to programming robots to perform a realistic task such as delivering supplies, we will be able to gather observations to help develop standards for safety, communication and behavior to allow these future systems to be useful and safe in our community.”