They call it Engineering 7, which, in typical University of Waterloo engineering style, is an elegant solution to naming a building that is set to begin construction this fall. Despite the simple name, inside this building some astoundingly complex things will happen. Farfetched ideas that were once just found in Isaac Asimov novels will now come to life in the Faculty of Engineering’s revolutionary RoboHub advanced robotics testing facility. It will be a state-of-the art showcase for humanoid, aerial, ground and maglev robot technologies, and the first of its kind in the world.
At the RoboHub, Waterloo Engineering researchers will develop diverse robot teams and simulate complex, real-world environments, as they crack open new multidisciplinary avenues to explore the potential of these combined advanced robotic technologies, says Prof. William Melek, a mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor who heads the RoboHub team.
Unlike the humanoid robots mimicking Japanese hostesses or other single-system robots that have recently captured the attention of consumers, Waterloo Engineering’s RoboHub will focus on robot teams that remain immune to individual failure. These co-ordinated advanced robotics teams have a vast range of potential applications: monitoring oil pipelines; tracking forest fires; maintaining hazardous high-voltage lines; mapping minefields; surveying agricultural land; unobtrusively studying wildlife behaviour, says Melek. All things Canada has in abundance but spread out over vast geographical and often incredibly harsh conditions that make it dangerous or economically unfeasible for humans.
“Nowhere else on the planet will you find the same advanced robotics technology under one roof. It will place Canada at the forefront of this strategically important emerging field.” - Prof. William Melek, Director of Mechatronics Engineering
This unique robotic testing facility, is critical to advancing the prosperity of Canada, says Melek. In agreement is the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) which recently awarded Melek $1.5 million in support of the research. The global robotics market is expected to be over $200 billion by 2025, and is one of the top six disruptive technologies for the coming decade, according to McKinsey Global Institute.
Waterloo Region is already home to a dynamic cluster of high-profile robotics companies, including Clearpath Robotics and Aeryon Labs, both founded by Waterloo Engineering alumni. The RoboHub research will provide the key breakthroughs to grow this burgeoning Canadian industry, says Melek. Some of the formidable challenges facing his team is perfecting human-robot interactions as well as developing algorithms to optimize robot team behavior and creating advanced perception systems to navigate changing environments, a key to autonomous vehicles.