News / Winnipeg

Video: Not satisfied with just hockey, Jennifer the robot goes cross-country, alpine sking

The world’s first ice-skating robot hasn’t been just sitting on her central processing unit watching the accolades roll in since her skills on the ice earned a gold medal and national media attention nearly three years ago—she’s been learning a whole new sport.

Jennifer, the University of Manitoba Autonomous Agents Laboratory’s robot hockey star, is now taking up cross-country and downhill skiing.

“Of course some of the students now want to do ski jumping, but we don’t want to do that because the robot is too expensive,” chuckled lab co-director Jacky Baltes of the $12,000 doll-sized robot named after Winnipeg’s own Jennifer Botterill. “Sure it’s expensive… but if students do interesting work with it and it breaks I’d rather have that than it sitting in pristine condition in the cupboard.”

And of course she doesn’t hit the slopes without her hockey helmet on.

Students began programming Jennifer to ski late last month, according to computer science graduate student Chris Iverach-Brereton, who’s been working with the robot since she arrived at the lab four years ago. He said teaching her to ski couldn’t have happened without first getting her on the ice skating, and then teaching her to balance herself on a specially built plank that sits on a rolling cylinder.

“The goal is to get her to do some kind of a slalom course,” explained Iverach-Brereton, who hand built the robot’s skis and poles with his dad. “To be able to do the sharp turns needed in slalom she’ll have to plant the pole or at least use it to cause some drag.”

The team won the ICRA DARwIn-OP Humanoid Application Challenge in 2012, and they hope Jennifer’s skills on the slopes will help them win gold again this year.

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