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Meet the robots at Reading: the history of ERIC

Meet ERIC, Reading University's very own mobile robot, created especially for our free online course, Begin Robotics.
In this Begin robotics course, we feature ERIC, a robot that we have designed specifically for it. ERIC is the latest in a long line of different robots that we have been producing, and in this talk here, we’ll explain some of the robots that we have produced. We’ve used robots in cybernetics for about 25 years now. The first robots were produced to help when we gave talks at schools. We would use robots to illustrate cybernetic principles. We then used them as student projects. We also used them as programming exercises in the first year laboratory. So students learned how to programme the robots to move around. They became test beds for our testing ideas in research.
And because of their popularity, science museums asked us to produce robots to exhibit different behaviour. So we produced a variety of different robots for that purpose. But where did the robots begin? Let’s look at one of our early robots. Like the very first robots we had, it got some sensors at the front, which allow it to perceive its environment. And it has two wheels at the back, and the caster wheel at the front, and it could move around avoiding obstacles, for instance. The very first ones didn’t even have a microprocessor, but this one does. Not only it does that, it also has, at the top, a set of infrared LEDs which it uses for communication.
And so we use these robots for moving around in the laboratory, for flocking, for shared experience learning that we shall talk about in the course. Now we’ll move on to one of the more modern ones.
This is the current version of the robot that we use in our first year laboratory, where we ask students to write the rules to define how the robot should move around, exploring its environment, say, avoiding obstacles. For this, we provide them with a simulation where they type in the rules, try them out in the simulation, and if it seems to work, they then download the rules into the actual robot itself, put it on the floor, and let it move around. And if they’re lucky, the robot does what they expect, but they haven’t got the rules quite right, then they go back, modify the rules, and carry on. They’re using feedback to learn. And now let’s consider ERIC.
When we started planning this course, we decide we would produce a new robot, and this is one of the very early ERICs. It’s a bit different from the final version, but it has a lot of the same functionality. It’s evolved from the original robot, but it does more. It also has a bit less, because it doesn’t have a caster wheel. It only has just the two wheels. It has sensors for detecting how far away objects are. It has built in communication as well. Here is the final version of the robot. Slightly different wheels, slightly bigger wheels, which are a bit more stable. And you will see this ERIC moving around during the course.

Now let’s meet some of the robots here at the University of Reading. This video features some of our earliest robots along with a few newer ones including ERIC, the mobile robot created especially for Begin Robotics.

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