Robot dogs race down Sir Roger Bannister's track at Effley Road

Robot dogs race down Sir Roger Bannister’s track at Effley Road

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Oxford The University’s Effley Road running track is famous around the world as the site of Sir Roger Bannister who broke the record-breaking four-minute mile in 1954.

Yesterday, the 400m circuit was the setting for another unprecedented sporting feat – although it involved not human effort, but cutting-edge technical prowess.

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In a fun event to raise awareness of technology, robot dogs entered an obstacle course to demonstrate their agility and speed.

The high-tech sports match was organized by a team from the IF Oxford Festival of Science and Ideas, who organized a month of events across the city to promote public interest in all things science.

The fast, robotic “hounds” – made by US technology company Boston Dynamics – have been operated by experts from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which has a base in Harwell near… Didcot. Practical applications of the machines include carrying out tasks inside nuclear facilities that are too dangerous for humans to enter.

Festival director, Dr. Daine Comerford, said the event aims to bring people back together after the pandemic as well as to help children learn while having fun.

He said: “The people who were here with the bots are from UKAEA.

“They have these wonderful dogs that they can attach to a robotic arm that can be set up to handle the heat of fusion and allow people to get away from dangerous environments.”

He said that although the event had a serious purpose, it was also fun.

“I also believe that people learn more when they have fun, play, pick things up, and develop craft and mathematical skills,” he said.

“It’s not about wandering, of course, but people are playing and creating working robots that deal with dangerous things.

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“It shows kids that they don’t have to be YouTubers to play computer games for a living. They can incorporate that into robotics and engineering.”
John Verdon, a robot handling operations engineer at UKAEA, was running a robotic dog on an obstacle course using a tablet with Xbox controllers.

He said, “It introduces science topics, and pushes kids to get more involved in robotics. It takes 20 minutes to train to operate the robot and then it just learns what to look for.”

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“It’s very accessible and shows people that robots are here – and they are the future.”
Other activities for the kids included robotic art, robotic bowling, and the use of robotic arms.

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Dr Comerford said the IF Oxford Festival – which has seen events in a variety of venues, from Blackbird Leys to downtown and out of the country in Wytham – has gone very well.

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He said, “The festival is looking for an opportunity to say that there are so many wonderful and different experiences happening in the world that all people can come and see together as a family or even on your own.

“We have had many events this year and it has been really cool but also stressful. This year has allowed us to take another step back to real life experiences after the pandemic and bring people back together in a physical place.

“Oxford has a lot of beautiful places too, so it was really nice to come back to them all.”

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This story was written by J Harland. She joined the team in 2022 as a primary multimedia reporter.

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