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Prof. G. Dudek to lead NSERC Canadian Field Robotics Network

Can robots be useful tools outside of controlled environments like factories? NASA probes exploring Mars and military drones have shown that they can, but the new McGill-led NSERC Canadian Field Robotics Network wants to push the envelope a little further.

Prof. Gregory Dudek, the scientific director for the new network, says the new network provides Canadian researchers with the opportunity “to realize the promise of robotics.”

Prof. Dudek has developed six-legged robots that can crawl over rocks, ice, and snow, or even swim in water. He and his colleagues envision a new generation of robots that will act like remote eyes, covering the vast expanses of Canadian wilderness – for instance, monitoring fish breeding grounds or scouting hazardous icebergs that might threaten shipping. At the press conference that announced the network, Dudek said he and his colleagues will develop robots that can “operate and take measurements in almost any kind of outdoor environment [including] a spreading oil spill or a toxic waste zone.”

Progress toward that goal received a major boost when the new network received $5 million in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The network involves eight universities and 14 partner organizations and represents robotics engineers across the country.

“The number one objective of the network is to connect all the people in Canada who do robotics,” says Dudek. “We’re basically looking at robot operating systems, and if we’re lucky, some of these ideas will be used in every robot in Canada, whether it’s in your robot vacuum cleaner or in some vehicle.”

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