GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It looks almost like any other shopping cart, except sensors allow it to follow the shopper around the supermarket and slow down when needed so items can be placed in it, and it never crashes into anyone's heels.
Gregory Garcia dreamed up the robotic cart to solve a childhood peeve of being accidentally hit with shopping carts by his sister.
His cart, also known as B.O.S.S. for Battery Operated Smart Servant, was one of about 30 robots on display Wednesday by students at the University of Florida, who worked the past semester on the projects using their engineering backgrounds.
"The immediate thing that jumped to my mind was all those times as a kid when my sister would accidentally hit me with a cart," Garcia said. "It seems like the public would really want this since everybody shops.
Jeremy Greene, 23, of Panama City, created a robot named Atlas, which balances a blue ping pong ball on a flat piece of wood as it moves across the room. He said he sees no real world application for his robot other than entertainment.
When the electric engines of Antoin Baker's robot Cypher roared to life, the device lifted about a foot off a table, tethered by rubber bands. Cypher, a flat wooden square topped four engines, could be made into a flying device to lift heavy objects in the same way a helicopter does, Baker said.
"If the rubber bands break, run very fast," said Eric Schwartz, one of the two professors in the robot course.
Rolando Desrets' small robot made of wheels, gears and sensors, picks up ping pong balls. It then aims and tosses into a basketball net. He said he will later use the robot to compete against other colleges.
Students were given free rein in deciding the type of robot to construct. Robots range from Carlo Pasco's poker robot that deals cards to poker players to Bryan Talenfeld's invention that tells color blind people the color of a traffic light.
"My friends and I play poker all the time, but there is one kid who we do not deal because he is notorious for dealing from the bottom of the deck," Pasco wrote in his introduction about his robot. "An automated poker dealer would take the doubt out of human dealing, alleviating this problem once and for all."
The student-built submarine called the SubjuGator 5 has won first place for two years in a row in competition with other universities.
The robot is a clear tube about two feet long. It has cameras and sensors it uses to follow a simulated pipeline, said student Carlos Francis, 24, of Gainesville.
Francis said similar robotic submarines could be used to check underwater pipelines and could send back pictures to people on land or in boats.
Topped with a wig of dredlocks and a colorful hat, one of the most popular robots is Koolio. The robot delivers cold drinks to faculty and students who order them over the Internet.
Adam Grieper has a similar robot called the Beertender, which senses people and offers them a beer. "At this university, every piece of the robot puzzle has been solved," Schwartz said. He said students have designed flying, walking and swimming robots.
About half of the students are registered for the summer 2005 semester of the Intelligent Machine Design Laboratory course. The other half are students in the Machine Intelligence Laboratory or students in the MIL's National Science Foundation sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduate program.
UF students have been building autonomous mobile robots since 1993 ranging from submarines to helicopters, from planes to snakes, and from hydrofoils to alligators. Most of the students showing robots Wednesday were seniors in engineering or graduate students.
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