The Stopforth Mechatronics, Robotics and Research Lab has housed the Mechatronics, Robotics and Research Group’s (MR2G) Search and Rescue Division and the MR2G Bio-Engineering Unit since 2008 and 2009 respectively. Research focuses on topics that have an application and solve international problems.
There have been two focus areas described below.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Drones
This area focuses on UAVs for realistic applications such as searching for rhino poachers and inspecting dangerous or difficult to reach areas. The principal investigator is also the first academic in the world to obtain a Remote Pilot License (RPL), with South Africa being the first country to initiate regulations and licenses for drones. This research is funded by Eskom TESP and by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in South Africa, through the CSIR. The project is a national project, with links to the Robotics Center of South Africa (RASA).
Collaborative research in this area has involved Prof Theo van Niekerk and Prof Russell Phillips at the Nelson Mandela University. Some of the research pursued at the Nelson Mandela University is stability control and landing, and a 4-meter fixed-wing UAV being constructed. The research areas where collaboration is possible is on the different localization and mapping, point-cloud detection of faulty or defected parts, poachers detection, etc.
Prosthetic and Human Assisting Devices
The Touch Hand has been reported as being one of the most advanced, low cost, prosthetic hands in the world. The research has resulted in numerous international awards and funding, allowing for a spin-off company called Touch Prosthetics. The aim of the Touch Hand is to develop a prosthetic hand that is low-cost and affordable in the third world countries, yet having the ability to have the human functionality.
The research has allowed for collaboration with companies and institutions such as BunnyCorp, Horne Technologies, Kings College London, etc. Different versions of the hand has been developed over the years, and the goal is to have an entry into the 2018 Cybathlon Olympics Prosthetic Hand Series (which might be hosted in South Africa) and the 2020 Cybathlon Olympics challenge in Switzerland.