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Canada's cutest hockey-playing robot learns how to ski

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 Jennifer, the world's "first ice hockey playing humanoid robot," was created by the University of Manitoba's Autonomous Agents Laboratory in 2012. Since that time, she's been taught how to ski. (The University of Manitoba's humanoid robotics team / YouTube)

In 2012, the University of Manitoba birthed a true Canadian star by sharing footage of a student-built, hockey-playing humanoid robot named "Jennifer" online.

Standing at just under 2-feet-tall with a big round eyes that take up half her face (the part that isn't covered by an orange toque or pint-sized hockey helmet) it's hard to describe Jennifer as anything other than adorable -- but there are some serious brains behind this robot's huggable exterior.

Students from the University of Manitoba's Autonomous Agents Laboratory have been winning awards all over the world for their work with Jennifer (and her siblings) since she was unveiled as "the world's first ice hockey playing humanoid robot" three years ago -- one of the most prestigious being the International Conference on Robotics and Automation's 2012 DARwIn-OP Humanoid Application Challenge.

This year, Jennifer will once again be competing at the ICRA in Seattle near the end of May -- but she won't be showing off her puck-handling abilities again.

Instead, she'll be hitting the slopes:





The University of Manitoba announced in a Feb. 4 that the team behind Jennifer had taught its award-winning robot how to ski both cross-country and downhill.

"It uses skills we've been building on for years," said Prof. John Anderson, head of the university's Computer Science department to The Winnipeg Free Press. "It's the same physical (skating) robot, but with different software."

While the University notes on its website that Jennifer "is not ready for the black diamond runs," she's been handling small hills around the school quite well, as the video above shows.

That video, produced by U of M's 
humanoid robotics team, has generated a significant amount of media attention since it was released on YouTube just over a week ago -- and for the most part, people seem to be getting a kick out of it.

"It's entertaining and rather endearing to see the little bot make her way downhill as she manuevers her tiny skis and poles," wrote CNET's Bonnie Burton. "Here's hoping we will one day see Jennifer and her robo-cousins skiing their little metal hearts out in a future Winter Robolympics."

Mashable's Lance Ulanoff joked similarly that "there's so much emphasis on getting robots to do dirty, dangerous or menial jobs (defusing bombs, vacuuming your room) that it's nice to see at least one team of researchers is focused on robot leisure." 

"Up until today, my plan for the robot takeover had been to flee to northern Canada, where deep snow and grizzly bears would keep me safe from Skynet," wrote Gizmodo's Chris Mills after seeing the video. "But not any more, because some smart*** decided to teach the droids to ski. Great work, guys."

More than 1,400 people have also tweeted about Jennifer over the past week. One of said Twitter users was even lucky enough to snap a selfie with Canada's own famous Robo-athlete: 


While Jennifer was named after a professional athlete (Canadian 
three-time Olympic gold medal hockey player Jennifer Botterill,) it's unlikely we'll see the robot representing our country in the sports arena any time soon.

The 
Autonomous Agents Laboratory's co-directors John Anderson and Jacky Baltes told VICE's Motherboard that "the technology that's developed through sports-playing robots could one day lead to mechanized firefighters or rescue bots."

"[The robot] was originally developed for dealing with the breadth of humanoid motion," said Anderson. "One of the big things our lab is interested in is doing things like gaits for walking, skating, things like that where you have to deal with the fact that the ground underneath you might be changing."



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