Reitumetse Makwea
Digital Intern
3 minute read
10 Sep 2021
9:54 am

WATCH: UJ gets a whiff of the future with SA’s first robotic guide dog

Reitumetse Makwea

Spot was mainly created for dangerous facilities, but UJ wanted the dog to be part of the students’ everyday lives. 

University of Johannesburg artificial intelligence robotics student Devakshan Naicker is seen with UJ's latest acquisition - the Boston Dynamics agile mobile robot, 9 September 2021, at UJ in Johannesburg. Picture: citizen.co.za/Michel Bega

The University of Johannesburg’s new robot dog, Spot, created by Boston Dynamics, will be developed into a guide dog to help especially the disabled students get around the campus. 

According to Master’s student Devakshan Naicker, Spot was mainly created for dangerous facilities like mineshafts and crash sites, but the academic institution wanted the dog to be part of the students’ everyday lives. 

“Right now we want to get to a point where it becomes more of a guide dog, that can help disabled students around campus, but also help navigate people who are not familiar with the campus.”

Director of the Institute of Intelligence Systems at UJ, Professor Paul Babu, said Spot was the first in academia in SA and would be further developed for different kinds of tasks like fourth industrial revolution (4IR) driven solutions. 

UJ gets a whiff of the future with SA's first robotic guide dog
University of Johannesburg artificial intelligence robotics student Devakshan Naicker is seen with UJ’s latest acquisition – the Boston Dynamics agile mobile robot, 9 September 2021, at UJ in Johannesburg. Picture: citizen.co.za/Michel Bega

He said researchers and engineers intended to put Spot in use to aid in the development and testing of sophisticated AI algorithms and 4IR-driven solutions for various application areas such as healthcare, disaster management, construction, mining and industrial inspection. 

“It can be programmed to do certain kinds of tasks where direct humans involvement would be very dangerous and undesirable, like hazardous situations and disaster management. 

“4IR can be integrated into the Spot system as added functionalities to perform desired tasks,” he said. 

“There are two parts to it: one is the body which was made by Boston Dynamics and the other is the applications, which is basically the mind that we will be developing based on what we want the robot to do.” 

UJ gets a whiff of the future with SA's first robotic guide dog
Picture: citizen.co.za/Michel Bega

Babu said they would be developing Spot to work in the mining sector for safety inspections and disaster management. 

Naicker said they wanted to develop Spot to be more advanced by taking remote controls out of the equation and bringing in video and audio stimulus in which Spot could react to what is said rather than what it was controlled to do.

“My Masters is in alternative control, and what I’m working on is to remove operating Spot with a remote or joystick and make him understand somewhat situational or environmental awareness and what is going on around it. 

“I want to rather talk to the robot and say ‘go forward 100m or go search that area’ and point at it, then it’ll do just that.” 

UJ gets a whiff of the future with SA's first robotic guide dog
Picture: citizen.co.za/Michel Bega

Babu said UJ was the first university to secure an AI robot dog. 

“We would like to see multiple Spots running around campus and our students working with the latest technology,” Babu said. 

“Technology is developing at a fast rate and they will be learning and interacting with the latest technology and get to know what is happening around the world.”