The University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) has unveiled smWoef, the new robot dog, a 12kg Unitree A1 that stands less than half a metre tall. It’s an addition to the university robotics which include Libby, a robotic library assistant, that has been working at the Merensky Library on UP’s Hatfield Campus since 2019. And Stevie the robot started in the intensive-care unit (ICU) at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in July 2021. Stevie sets the scene for telemedicine – ICU teams in Germany not only attend ward rounds in Pretoria virtually but can also interact via Stevie’s phone.

Professor Wynand Steyn, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering in UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, was the one who named smWoef. The “sm” stands for “smart” because it is a Smart Alternative Transportation Platform connected to the internet, and “woef” is the Afrikaans spelling for “woof”, the sound a dog makes, because smWoef is a four-legged robot that resembles a dog. Despite the formulation of its name, however, it is pronounced as one syllable – as if it were written as “smwoef”.

A dark green robot dog called smWoef, who is a 12kg Unitree A1, stands in green grass among bushes. smWoef arrived at UP from China last year without its lithium-ion battery pack, which had to be shipped separately because it is hazardous. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the battery was stuck in Hong Kong for months. However, the enterprising researchers at UP’s Engineering 4.0 facility – which focuses on research on smart transport, cities and infrastructure – made a plan.

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