Tech students design robots to help care for children, pets, and plants

13 Dec 2023

Student teams from the XJTLU School of Advanced Technology have won a national innovation competition after designing a robotic companion for children and a smart home system that cares for pets and plants.

AI friend for kids

Skippy, an artificially intelligent device that can patrol a home to identify and sort toys and other objects, received first prize in China’s sixth National University Contest on Intelligent Robotic Innovations.

Skippy is an intelligent companion for children

The robot has an adjustable grabber for reaching various surfaces and can be connected to cameras throughout the home, allowing it to observe children and quickly alert parents of hazardous behaviours or emergencies.

The prototype was designed and assembled by graduate students Yangzesheng Lu, Bingjie Xu in the MRes Pattern Recognition and Intelligent Systems programme, and Jingxiang Wang in the MSc Sustainable Energy Technology programme.

From left: Dr Qinglei Bu, Bingjie Xu, Jingxiang Wang, and Yangzesheng Lu

“We wanted to create something that supports families with children. Skippy can identify items on the ground – toys, everyday objects, garbage – and then put them in their correct place, which helps keep a home safe and tidy,” says Lu, the project leader.

Skippy combines several advanced machine-learning technologies including generative AI and multimodal learning, explains Professor Jie Sun, Head of the Department of Mechatronics and Robotics, who supervised the project along with colleague Dr Qinglei Bu.

To complete their design, the students had to research and apply knowledge from various fields, such as mechanical design and processing, electrical architecture design, embedded development, robot kinematics, and computer vision.

“Participating in a multidisciplinary and highly complex project like this allows us to learn and use skills outside of our programme, which is very rewarding,” says Xu.

Wang says that the team will continue to upgrade Skippy in the hope of applying it in homes as soon as possible.

Home support

Another team of XJTLU undergraduates also won first prize in the contest for designing a compact intelligent ecosystem that cares for plants and pets while their owners are away.

The system automatically monitors and adjusts the environmental conditions, and includes water purification and a feeding cycle, allowing it to support species including fish, amphibians, terrestrial animals, and plants for sustained periods.

From left: Zhaochen Wang, Dr Qian Dong, Xuezhi Ou, and Liming Guo

“When users need to leave home for vacation or a business trip, for example, they can just set the automatic feeding interval in advance or water their plants remotely using their phone,” says Zhaochen Wang, who designed the system with Xuezhi Ou and Liming Guo. All are Year Three students in the BEng Digital Media Technology programme.

With guidance from Dr Zhao Wang, Head of the Department of Communications and Networking, and Associate Professor Dr Qian Dong, the team utilised a segmented design that allows users to create diverse environments for various species.

The students’ compact intelligent ecosystem

This year’s National University Contest on Intelligent Robotic Innovations attracted more than 5,000 teams from 501 universities including Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Teams first need to participate in the regional competition (provincial competition). 60% of all teams that submit materials for the provincial competition can participate in the offline provincial competition. Among them, about 24% of the teams can qualify for the national games (finale).

This year, a total of 232 teams advanced to the national competition (finale) for intelligent home robots, and 20% of them won a first prize.

By Huatian Jin

Edied by Craig McIntosh and Xinmin Han

Photos courtesy of Yangzesheng Lu, Zhaochen Wang

13 Dec 2023


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