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Pepper the Parrot Drives a Bird Buggy

Pets love being around their owners and if left alone for too long, many will put up quite a fuss. Andrew Gray’s parrot, Pepper, was no exception and when all conventional methods for squelching Pepper’s shrieking failed, Andrew came up with a high-tech solution.

Andrew is currently working toward his Masters degree at the University of Florida. Having been heavily involved in the Machine Intelligence Lab as well as projects for autonomous lawn mowers and boats, he put his skills to work to help improve Pepper’s mobility. Thus was born the Bird Buggy.

Fundamentally, it is much like a scaled-down motorized wheel chair. The joystick on the control column enables Pepper to move the vehicle forward, back, left and right using his beak.

Of course, motorized vehicles require safety equipment and the Bird Buggy has some as well. Infrared sensors on the front of the buggy help to prevent collisions and when the bumpers detect contact with an object, the vehicle automatically backs away.

Pepper is a pretty good driver, but he likely doesn’t know what to do when his buggy’s battery goes flat. So, this is where Andrew’s autonomous robot background comes into play. When the Bird Buggy is running low on power, its onboard camera looks for a specially-designed docking station to refuel.

The recharge station consists of two colored marker balls, one red and one green. The onboard camera can see where these markers are located and, based on their position relative to one another, determine which way to go. As the Bird Buggy makes its approach to the docking station, it continuously aligns itself by “eye” until it hits its mark.

All the electronics for the Bird Buggy’s brains are contained in the bottom platform. Although the various circuit boards, battery and motors could fit into a smaller body, the dimensions of the Bird Buggy fulfill a practical design requirement. The width and height of the body match those of the folded newspaper that is placed on top to make cleanup easy.

What do you think of the Bird Buggy? In what ways would you further improve the design?

(Photos credit: Andrew Gray)

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