GREENVILLE — Call it the real-life R2-D2.

A robot that made its South Carolina debut in Greenville on Monday follows shoppers around a store, just as the lovable “Star Wars” droid followed Luke Skywalker around a galaxy far, far away.

Yunyi Jia, an assistant professor of automotive engineering at Clemson University, led the student team that developed the Smart Shopping Companion Robot, which was designed to help people with limited mobility. The team is based at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

The robot can be paired with a smart phone and uses sensors to track the shopper’s movements, automatically following behind, as if on an invisible string. It could be used to carry items through shopping malls, airports or industrial settings. The robot could also assist automotive workers, the elderly, and children, or be used for entertainment.

Yunyi Jia, left, works with automotive engineering graduate students Longxiang Guo and Zachary Max Diekel at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

Yunyi Jia (left) works on the Smart Shopping Companion Robot with automotive engineering graduate students  Zachary Max Diekel (center), and Longxiang Guo  at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

The researchers involved are Clemson automotive engineering graduate students Longxiang Guo, Zachary Max Diekel, Nandanshri Bagadi, Vipul Guglani, Nikhil Sharma and Surabhi Sharma.

They are now seeking ways of bringing the robot to market.

The robot was warmly received this month at ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival. It was one of three Clemson projects at the festival, which was at the Natural Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the University was well-represented.

“Clemson’s entries, including the Smart Shopping Companion Robot, demonstrated the creative exploration and innovation at the heart of the University’s learning experience,” said Jones, who attended the festival. “Our students are learning to create innovative solutions that have a global impact, which bodes well for future generations.”

The idea for the robot originated in Dee Kivett‘s automotive engineering course on project design and management and was implemented based on the knowledge from Jia’s automotive engineering course on automotive electronics integration.

Zoran Filipi, chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering, congratulated the team.

“The robot they have created is an imaginative approach to solving a real-world problem,” he said. “This project highlights the impressive research our students are doing and the impact of our multidisciplinary approach to education.”

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