Manitoba computer science students build hockey-playing robot

Graduates from the University of Manitoba’s computer science program have created a true Canadian hockey-playing robot. The robot mimics the actions of a human hockey player and can skate forward and shoot pucks. Its hockey skills are part of a more practical mission to develop robots that can handle rough terrain and uneven paths that may eventually help in firefighting and rescue operations.

University of Manitoba professor Jacky Baltes, an Olympic gold medal champion in speed skating, has been researching humanoid robots since 2002. Humanoid is the name given to robots that have two arms, two legs, a body and a head to mimic human motions. Baltes told Metro Winnipeg that he has already developed humanoids that play basketball and run marathons. He decided to engage his computer science students in developing a humanoid with a Canadian twist like hockey and an overall objective to walk on uneven ground.

The 55-centimetre tall robot has been named Jennifer after Canadian three-time Olympic hockey gold medalist Jennifer Botterill. Granted, robot Jennifer’s motions are pretty slow and she would get clobbered in a game against humans despite the Winnipeg Jets jersey she wears. Programmer Chris Iverach-Brereton told CBC we’re still 20 years away from having full robot leagues (could you imagine?). But professors in Japan have already issued a hockey challenge to Jennifer and any future hockey bots like her.

Jennifer has been submitted to compete in the 2012 DARwIn-OP Humanoid Appliance Challenge, an annual international robotics challenge that takes place in Minneapolis. This particular challenge is part of many in robotics but specific to vision-capable humanoids with full functionality and scalability. Watch the team’s video submission below.

Jennifer is valued at $12,000 and is the accumulative work of Baltes, Iverach-Brereton and nine other computer science graduates. Baltes hopes Jennifer will help him and his colleagues eventually build humanoid firefighting robots. He told Metro that would make his life’s work complete.

This is not the first time robots and hockey have teamed up. Waterloo start-up Hockey Robotics has developed a robot that also mimics human actions, this time in the form of a slap shot to improve the design and durability of hockey sticks. This robot isn’t a humanoid because it doesn’t have arms, legs or a head, but it can hit a slap shot just as hard as Stanley Cup champion Zdeno Chara. Check out 23-year-old Hockey Robotics president JS Rancourt’s profile to learn more. His work stems from a background in mechanical engineering from the University of Waterloo.

Engineering and computer science graduates are in huge demand, especially in the Toronto Region and Waterloo. Find out more about in demand jobs. And if robots in specific are your passion, check out our profile on robotics engineering.

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