Univ. of Fla. robots: Perfect for golfer who has everything

December 18, 2001

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Christmas is coming to golfers with a lazy streak. University of Florida engineering students have designed a pair of robots that take some of the sweat out of America's favorite outdoor game. Li'l Golfing Buddy finds the tee and sets up the ball for a drive down the fairway. RoboWoods helps on the green, putting the ball into the hole.

"If you could buy a $500 putter, why not buy a $500 robot that putts the ball?" says Kahlil Khan, the UF computer engineering undergraduate who designed RoboWoods.

RoboWoods is no Tiger Woods - yet.

The students designed and built the robots as part of a graduate class in intelligent machines, and they remain works in progress. But the potential for a new era in automated golfing is there.

RoboWoods is the electronic helper of frustrated putters' dreams.

The shoebox-sized robot uses infrared sensors to locate the ball and hole, which it knocks in with the business end of a real putter. The range of just a few feet is admittedly shy of what might be desired - except, perhaps, for miniature golf. And golfing rules would almost certainly forbid robotic assistance But Khan says RoboWoods could still be useful. "You could use it to try different putters and see which works best," he says.

Li'l Golfing Buddy is aimed at convenience. It scoots around on toy rubber wheels, hunting the tee with infrared sensors, then centers itself on the tee using a laser scavenged from a laser pointer. The robot balances the golf ball on top with a delicate mechanical arm and then backs off to let its human master take over.

Electrical and computer engineering student Jonathan Gamoneda says he envisions the robot doing the dirty work at driving ranges. "Every time you go to the range you get a jumbo size bucket of golf balls, and by the time you get to the bottom your back hurts from setting up so many balls," he says. "Li'l Golfing Buddy does the work for you, so it helps you practice better."

Not only that, what golfer worth his spikes wouldn't relish those envious stares from the rest of the foursome?

The technology is still a long way from the science fiction vision of robots as practical helpers and friendly companions, but new developments often start in leisure or entertainment and then spread into the mainstream, says Antonio Arroyo, director of UF's Machine Intelligence Laboratory.

"At first, everybody thought the only use for computers was to play games, but then IBM proved they could be used in business," Arroyo says. "I think we're following that same path in robotics: Right now they're for hobbyists and entertainment, but someday they will do something the Fortune 500 companies need done."
Writer: Aaron Hoover
Sources: Kahlil Khan, J. Gamoneda
(352) 271-6622, 392-6605
kahlil@ufl.edu, jgam@ufl.edu


University of Florida

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