Race high-tech robot dogs on Sir Roger Bannister’s Iffley Road race track

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ROBOTS: “Robots are here and they are the future” (Picture: n/a)

OXFORD University’s Iffley Road race track is world famous as the site of Sir Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile record in 1954.

Today, the 400m circuit was the site of another groundbreaking athletic feat – though it involved not human effort, but cutting-edge technical ingenuity.

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In a fun tech awareness event, robot dogs competed in an obstacle course to show off their agility and speed.

The high-tech sporting event was organized by the IF Oxford Festival of Science and Ideas team, who staged a month of events across the city to promote public interest in all things science .

The fast robot ‘dogs’ – made by US technology company Boston Dynamics – were operated by experts from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), which has a base in Harwell near Didcot. Practical applications for the machines include performing tasks inside nuclear facilities too dangerous for humans.

Festival director Dr Dane Comerford said the event aims to bring people together after the pandemic as well as help children learn while having fun.

He said: “The people who were here with the robots are from the UKAEA.

“They have these shiny dogs that they can attach a robot arm to that can be configured to handle the heat of fusion and keep people out of dangerous environments.”

He said that while the event had a serious purpose, it was also a lot of fun.

“I also think people learn more when they’re having fun, playing and collecting things and developing craft and sports skills,” he said.

“Obviously it’s not about having fun, but people are playing and getting creative with working robots that handle dangerous things.

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“It shows kids that they don’t have to be a YouTuber to play computer games to make a living. They can incorporate that into robotics and engineering.

Jon Verdon, a robot manipulation operations engineer for the UKAEA, was driving a robot dog through the obstacle course using a tablet equipped with Xbox controllers.

He said: “It emphasizes science subjects, pushing children to become more involved with robots. Practicing how to operate a robot takes 20 minutes, and then it’s just a matter of learning what to look for.

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“He’s very approachable and shows people that robots are here – and they’re the future.”

Other activities for the kids included robotic art, robotic bowling, and using robotic arms.

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Dr Comerford said the IF Oxford festival – which saw events take place in a variety of venues, from Blackbird Leys to the city center and across the country to Wytham – went extremely well.

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He said: “The festival is looking for an opportunity to say that there are so many different and wonderful experiences in the world that people could all come and see together as a family or even alone.

“We have had several events this year and it has been very enjoyable but also exhausting. This year has allowed us to take another step to return to real-life experiences after the pandemic and bring people together in a physical place.

“Oxford also has so many beautiful places so it was really nice to go back all of them.”

Learn more about this author

This story was written by Gee Harland. She joined the team in 2022 as a senior multimedia reporter.

Gee covers Wallingford, Wantage and Didcot.

Get in touch with her by emailing: [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @Geeharland

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