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Last Seen, Moving Slowly, on the UT Campus: a Robotic Couch

We’ve seen the future – and it is automated.

We have automated vacuum cleaners, cars and even warplanes. So it was only a matter of time until the practice moved to home furnishings. And Sunday before last, at 5 a.m., the UT Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) debuted the latest – and most peculiar – automation application: a robotic couch.

Complete with four motors, nine batteries, a sound system and LEDs spanning the perimeter of the deep green couch, its creators cruised down W. 21st Street. A  computerized campus speed-trap sign read “5 MPH” – the couch’s top speed – while an attached boombox blasted, quite appropriately, Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.”

In short, it was a successful test run.

The impetus behind the build was simple: they had the parts.

“We had a couch that wasn’t robotic,” says RAS member Christopher Haster. “And we had motors.”

But it was also a pitch to the Red Bull Creation contest – a national contest for creators, engineers and hackers sponsored by the caffeinated-beverage maker. Their video application to the contest gained some traction and garnered some upvotes on Reddit. “We actually didn’t spend any additional money on this,” Haster says. “It was just built out of parts we kind of had lying around. So we just threw it together when we had free time.” 

The couch isn’t a picture of efficiency: it takes 9 hours to charge, runs for 15 minutes and is difficult to move out of the trailer the society occupies outside of the engineering building.

But still – for next to no money, the RAS got a robotic couch, a chance to secure a spot in the finals in the national contest, and a free case of Red Bull.

The RAS, however, isn't resting on its laurels.

Next up: the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition, which recruits robotics departments from universities across the nation. The challenge? Build an autonomous robot able to navigate a treacherous course using GPS coordinates. At the contest the RAS will debut Doloraz, a project the society spent nearly a year building for a little under $500. Some schools spend as much as three times that.

And after the contest, RAS members they’ll focus on their next project: an automated recliner.

Here’s the RAS video for its robotic couch: 

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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