All Bytes, No Bark: YSU Grad Displays Robot Dog’s Capabilities

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Spot doesn’t greet you at the door with a wagging tail or bark at intruders – at least not yet.

A product of Boston Dynamics in Massachusetts, the robot dog is designed to work in factories or on oil rigs performing dangerous or mundane tasks.

Andrew Morgan, a 2017 Youngstown State University graduate and a research scientist at Boston Dynamics AI Institute, brought the robot to his alma mater Friday and demonstrated its capabilities.

“I just want to encourage students to continue to pursue what they’re interested in,” said Morgan, who earned a Ph.D. at Yale University. “You have all the abilities in the world going to YSU – getting an education here, going on to further your education or changing trajectories however you see fit. I really just want to serve as an inspiration to allow people to pursue their interests.”

His Ph.D. focused on robotics. He’s a 2013 graduate of Mathews High School and earned degrees in computer science and electrical engineering from YSU, where he was in the Sokolov Honors College.

“I’m very happy that I’m in this sort of position,” Morgan said. “I’m very grateful for having this upbringing of great teachers and professors and everyone here to support me. Putting Spot in a car and driving for 10 hours each way just seemed like a no-brainer to me. It was worth it to me.”

Spot is a four-legged robot equipped with five cameras that allow it to map out its terrain so it’s aware of obstacles.

Spot is a four-legged robot equipped with five cameras that allow it to map out its terrain so it’s aware of obstacles. 

“Spot is a dynamic walker,” Morgan explained. “As Spot is trying to walk, he is more or less trying to monitor the torques of each of the joints so that no matter what terrain Spot is walking on, he can overcome uncertainties in his environment, uncertainties in his perception …”

That allows the robot to walk up stairs, walk on slippery surfaces, step over barriers and pick up and drop objects. Morgan demonstrated the robot features, using a hand-held controller.

A dynamic walking robot is something scientists have been working on for about 40 years. Mark Raibert, who started Boston Dynamics, was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and started the leg lab in the early 1980s, Morgan said.

Raibert started working with one-legged robots that hopped. He then moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he continued the leg lab and started working on two- and four-legged walking robots, he said.

“Boston Dynamics has been around for 30 years, and this quest of having more dynamic walkers has been their goal for a very long time,” Morgan said. “…The idea of actually realizing locomotion in robots, we are seeing it here today, especially compared to where we were five, 10 years ago.” 

Morgan acknowledged the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in education for younger children.

“We’re turning much more technological as a society,” he said. “These are things that we need to keep in mind as we’re moving forward, and in the educational system as well.”

Pictured at top: Andrew Morgan and the robot dog Spot.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.