Clemson students develop cargo-carrying robot

Photo by Will Crooks

A team of graduate students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville has created a prototypical robot that’s straight out of the Star Wars droid factory. In fact, they’re calling it the “real-life R2-D2.”

The robot, which resembles a miniature shopping cart, is designed to hold and transport an individual’s belongings as they navigate indoor and outdoor spaces, according to Yunyi Jia, lead researcher and assistant professor in robotics at Clemson University, who served as mentor for the project.

Jia said the robot is motorized and capable of traveling at varying speeds – from a snail’s pace to a sprint. It also features three ultrasonic sensors that are capable of tracking movement, allowing it to automatically follow a user as they walk to their destination.

“This particular robot was created as a shopping assistant for people with limited mobility,” said Jia. “But it can be modified for other applications, such as delivering parts across a factory floor or carrying heavy luggage through an airport. The applications are endless.”

The idea for the robot originated in an automotive engineering course on project design and management, according to Jia. Students in the course conducted market research and identified a need for the robot, but they weren’t capable of actually creating it. That’s when Max Diekel and Longxiang Guo, who are both studying automotive engineering at Clemson University, decided to join the project.

The duo has since spent the last year working on the robot, which is called the Smart Shopping Companion Robot. They unveiled the robot in early October at ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival in Washington, D.C. It was one of three Clemson projects selected for the festival.

Diekel and Guo, along with Jia, are currently in the process of creating a larger robot that features a Bluetooth receptor, which would allow users to connect the robot to their smartphones and call it to their location when needed. They’re also seeking ways to bring the robot to market.

“Our goal is to deploy a fleet of these robots in a variety of markets,” said Jia. “But it all depends on whether or not we can find investors. Until then, we’re going to continue improving our current model and showcasing its capabilities.”



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