Betty, the autonomous robot, starts work as trainee office manager

The Transport Systems Catapult, based in Milton Keynes, will enroll a new recruit this month when a robot from the University of Birmingham joins its workforce as a trainee office manager for a two month trial period. 

The robot, named Betty, will carry out tasks including; patrolling the offices, assessing how many staff members are in the office outside working hours, monitoring the environment by collating data on clutter, office temperature, humidity and noise, as well as checking fire doors are closed and desks are clear. She will also be tasked with greeting guests at reception. 

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Betty is a highly sophisticated robot, running Artificial Intelligence-driven software developed by an international research team led by the University of Birmingham. This software enables her to process all the information she needs to map and navigate her environment, learning as she does so. Using cameras and scanners she is able to create a map of her surrounding area, identifying desks, chairs and other objects that she must negotiate when she is moving around, as well as detecting people’s movement through activity recognition. 

While Betty carries out her duties, she will also gather information about her surroundings and learn how the environment changes over time – for example, where people go within the office, where objects appear, whether doors are open or closed. She will also know when to report to her docking station to recharge her batteries.

Betty is part of the £7.2 million EU-funded STRANDS project where robots are learning how to act intelligently and independently in real-world environments while understanding 3D space and how this changes over time from milliseconds to months.

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Dr Nick Hawes, from the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham, who leads the STRANDS project, said, “For robots to work alongside humans in normal work environments it is important that they are both robust enough to operate autonomously without expert help, and that they learn to adapt to their environments to improve their performance. Betty demonstrates both these abilities in a real working environment: we expect her to operate for two months without expert input, whilst using cutting-edge AI techniques to increase her understanding of the world around her.”

TSC Chief Operating Officer Mark Ruddy commented, “At the TSC, innovation and new technologies are at the core of our business so we are excited to be hosting the STRANDS project. Thanks to our ongoing work on autonomous technology, Betty should feel right at home in the TSC’s facilities. We hope that we can learn from her as much as she can learn from us during her stay. We have yet to see her interact with one of the LUTZ Pathfinder Autonomous Pods!”

Notes to Editors

Images and a short video are available: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/1fi3i2s4fa3kk7u/AAChcJEoTH_lOIyIGlCe7oU6a?dl=0

Please credit John James/University of Birmingham

The research team on the STRANDS project include the University of Birmingham, University of Lincoln, Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Rheinisch-Westfäische Technische Hochschule Aachen, ACIN Technische Universität Vienna, University of Leeds and. Akademie für Altersforschung am Haus der Barmherzigkeit, and G4S Technology Ltd.

For interview requests or more information, please contact Luke Harrison, Media Relations Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)121 414 5134.

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