We followed faculty member Matt Travers down a set of stairs into the basement of the building. It was a cavernous space — lots of piled boxes and miscellaneous storage — but that turns out to be the perfect space to train the robots that he has been developing.
We turned the corner and entered the “MattLab,” which was buzzing with activity. More than a dozen grad students were typing on desktops, tinkering with remote controls and referencing huge monitors displaying incomprehensible charts and data. Matt, along with his graduate students, introduced us to the robotic members of their team including a very industrial-looking snake robot, a canine-inspired quadruped and a fleet of small cars with giant box-like devices mounted atop that allow the vehicles to make autonomous decisions.
Hilariously, the dog-like robot, dubbed Spot, kept malfunctioning every time we started filming. We tried to capture it trotting down the hall but it would stop suddenly and sit down — sort of like my dog after a too-long summer walk. After 15 minutes of attempts, we finally realized that our NEXTpittsburgh microphone was actually interfering with the robot’s signal. Once we turned the microphone off, Spot performed its duties flawlessly.
Before we left, I asked Matt if he thought we’d ever live in a world with robot butlers. He wasn’t sure. He didn’t think we’d ever see a “Jetsons”-like world full of humanoid helpers but he did think robots would probably be integrated into our lives more and more.
If you want more Yinzer Backstage Pass, check out last week’s episode — we visited a hive of bees at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden and learned how they built a garden on a former strip mine.