Father Christmas has enlisted a new band of helpers this Christmas from the National Robotarium, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and The University of Edinburgh, and robotics company Cyberselves to avoid any embarrassing chimney-related incidents on Christmas Eve.
Robotics experts are not only helping Santa to navigate confined spaces but have also allowed him to make his workshop at the North Pole Covid-compliant using the latest technology.
After a second year of munching mince pies during lockdown, Santa has become even more concerned about his girth and turned to the National Robotarium and Cyberselves for help.
Using Cyberselves’ “Teleport” app, Saint Nick can take control of one of the National Robotarium’s small robot “reindeer” to enter chimneys before him.
The software allows Santa to see, hear, and feel through the robot as if he was already there inside the chimney, allowing him to assess its shape, size, and whether there’s a fire in the hearth below – all without getting dirty black soot on his clean red suit.
Once Father Christmas is satisfied all is safe, he can descend to deliver his presents – or use his magic to unlock the front door instead if the chimney is going to be too tight.
The National Robotarium and Cyberselves are already developing similar technology to allow humans to control robots in hazardous environments, from offshore wind farms and nuclear reactors through to building sites and areas hit by natural disasters.
As well as the new remote sensing robot he’s carrying on his sleigh tonight, Santa also asked the experts to help keep him and his workforce healthy during the run-up to Christmas.
While Saint Nick is no stranger to working from home in his workshop, he is prone to a tickly nose and going “achoo”, despite the best efforts of the North Pole’s ’elf and safety manager.
Technology installed at the North Pole by the National Robotarium and Cyberselves now allows a doctor to control a robot to assess Santa’s condition, saving him a lengthy sleigh ride to visit his local medical centre.
A research project underway at the National Robotarium, and supported by Cyberselves’ software, is using similar “telepresence” technology to connect doctors with care home residents to carry out check-ups remotely.
Working with Blackwood Homes and Care in Scotland, health practitioners can control a robot to interact with and perform assessments on patients, allowing for more regular monitoring and reviews of care packages as necessary.
Stewart Miller, chief executive at the National Robotarium, said: “It has been an honour to work with Santa and his elves to alleviate some of the challenges of living remotely in the North Pole and to support preparations for their busiest night of the year.
“We hope that by embracing new technologies and working in collaboration with our researchers, Santa will inspire children around the world to consider a career in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
“The robotics and AI research being pioneered at the National Robotarium is designed to have a positive impact on industry and society, to benefit people from all walks of life.
“From research into how tech can support improved access to healthcare through to technologies that help industry be more productive and robots that make work in hazardous environments safer, our world-renowned researchers are leading the way in developing solutions to global challenges using robotics and AI.”
The National Robotarium, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, is part of the Data-Driven Innovation initiative and is supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government through the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal - a 15 year investment programme jointly funded by both governments and regional partners.
Daniel Camilleri, co-founder and chief technology officer at Cyberselves, added: “We’ve gone from Cyberselves to cyber-elves to help Santa this Christmas.
“Our ‘Teleport’ application lets users remotely operate a robot and experience its senses as if they were really there.
“Powered by our unique software platform Animus, the tech operates at low latency, meaning it can be used across vast distances.
“For someone like Santa, who lives in a hard-to-reach area and needs access to services such as healthcare, it can open up crucial new ways to connect.”