Sci­en­tists field test robots in Kelowna

The Daily Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By RON SEYMOUR

Robots will sail, drive, and fly them­selves around Kelowna to­mor­row.

The city is host­ing the an­nual gath­er­ing of Cana­dian sci­en­tists who are build­ing robots spe­cially de­signed to work out­doors.

A field test show­cas­ing a dozen of their latest cre­ations will see robots at­tempt to climb cliffs, cruise un­der­wa­ter in Okana­gan Lake, fly be­tween var­i­ous points, and en­gage in tasks that test their sens­ing, com­put­ing, and es­ti­mat­ing skills.

“Ro­bot­ics tech­nol­ogy is ad­vanc­ing very, very quickly,” Richard Vaughan, a com­puter science pro­fes­sor at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, said Wed­nes­day.

“In the same way that ro­bot­ics has com­pletely changed the in­dus­trial man­u­fac­tur­ing process over the last cou­ple decades, the way we do things out­doors will be rev­o­lu­tion­ized by robots in the com­ing years,” he said.

As they be­come more so­phis­ti­cated and adept at deal­ing with a va­ri­ety of un­pre­dictable en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, robots will play key roles in min­ing, forestry, and agri­cul­ture, Vaughan be­lieves.

And given Canada’s di­verse cli­mates and chal­leng­ing ter­rain, as well as its world-class re­searchers and sci­en­tists, the coun­try stands poised to be­come a leader in the field, he says.

“We see our­selves, along with Aus­tralia and the U.S, as be­ing at the fore­front of the de­vel­op­ment of this kind of in­tel­li­gent tech­nol­ogy,” Vaughan said.

The 80 re­searchers in Kelowna this week are mem­bers of the Na­tional Sciences and En­gi­neer­ing Re­search Coun­cil’s Cana­dian Field Ro­bot­ics Net­work, which in­cludes

eight univer­si­ties and in­dus­trial part­ners. They work to­gether to ad­vance Canada’s abil­i­ties in de­vel­op­ing robots for out­door ap­pli­ca­tion.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion was set up by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 2012, and this is the third field test of their out­door-pur­posed robots. The two pre­vi­ous tests were held in Mon­treal and Toronto.

“Canada can own field ro­bot­ics,” said Gre­gory Dudek, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s di­rec­tor and a McGill univer­sity pro­fes­sor. “We have the needs, the skills, the com­pa­nies and the re­searchers. Mon­i­tor­ing forests, borders, fish stocks, and ac­tiv­i­ties like search and res­cue; ro­bot­ics can pro­vide key so­lu­tions for each.

Kelowna was cho­sen for the group’s field test be­cause of its di­verse land­scape and va­ri­ety of set­tings in which the ma­chines can be eval­u­ated.

The field test is not de­signed to be a public event, but will take place around the base of Knox Moun­tain.

Photo con­trib­uted

Shokoofeh Pourmehr, a PhD stu­dent from Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, pre­pares her Husky ro­bot at field tri­als in Kelowna this week.

Photo con­trib­uted

Field Ro­bot­ics re­searchers and stu­dents from Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity pre­pare for ro­bot tri­als at Knox Moun­tain.

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