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Want $2 Million? Build A Robot!

Posted June 26, 2013

It’s that time of the year again. The birds are chirping.  The sun is shining.  The flowers are blooming.

See robot.  See robot run.  (Graphic illustration provided by DARPA)

See robot. See robot run. (Graphic illustration provided by DARPA)

Yes, that’s right.  I’m talking about the DARPA Robotics Challenge.  It’s back!  What, did you think I was going to say summer?  Puh-lease.

*inhales* Ah, I can practically smell the innovation in the air.

In case you didn’t read my post about this last year, the DARPA Robotics Challenge is kind of a big deal.  It’s the chance for organizations and innovators around the world to show what they’re made of.  Or rather, what they can make a robot out of, if you will.

I guess something you might be asking yourself is, why do we need robots?  I think the question you should really be asking is, why wouldn’t we?

Simply put, humans are flawed.  We’re limited.  We’re fragile.  We’re susceptible to illness, we can be emotionally compromised, we’re easily damaged.  Our national security is vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters and there are often limitations to what humans can accomplish to help remedy these situations or mitigate further damage.

Today’s robotics are helping, but they are not yet robust enough to function in all environments and perform the basic tasks needed to mitigate a crisis situation.

The goal of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is to generate groundbreaking research and development so that future robotics can perform the most hazardous activities.  This is so that, in future disaster response operations – and in tandem with their human counterparts – they can have the capacity to reduce casualties, avoid further destruction, and save lives.  So what is DARPA looking for in the next generation of robots?

He looks like he's dancing.  Does that mean he's "doing the robot"?  (Graphic illustration provided by DARPA)

He looks like he’s dancing. Does that mean he’s “doing the robot”? (Graphic illustration provided by DARPA)

Turns out, it’s three-fold.

Within the coming months, the Challenge will test the participating teams’ robots ability to work in rough terrain and their capacity to use human aids such as vehicles and hand tools.  Based on their experience in past, DARPA has planned a sequence of three increasingly demanding events for 2013 and 2014.

**NOTE: DARPA does not expect immediate success, but anticipate that teams will refine their approaches over the course of the DRC to achieve success by the DRC Finals **

This competition is broken up into three parts for 2013:  The Virtual Robotics Challenge, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials, and the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

Virtual Robotics Challenge: “It is important that an effective operator control architecture be implemented, and that teams demonstrate competence in addressing the areas of robot perception, manipulation, and locomotion. To stress these skills, the virtual challenge event will test teams’ abilities to control a simulation of a humanoid robot to accomplish a set of physical challenges. Teams will be evaluated based on their ability to complete all tasks, and winners will be given both a dedicated Atlas robot and continued funding to support participation in the next challenge.”

VRC is a cloud-based competition designed to test Track B and C teams’ abilities to accomplish a subset of the physical Challenge tasks through simulation of a robot. These teams will be evaluated based on effective operator control of the robots in a subset of the DRC Trials tasks, as well as addressing the areas of robot perception, manipulation, and locomotion. Specifically, the tasks to be tested are:

  • ·         Driving a utility vehicle
  • ·         Walking across progressively more difficult terrain
  • ·         Attaching a hose connector to a spigot and turning a nearby valve

Up to six VRC winners will be selected and given a dedicated Atlas robot and continued funding to support participation in the physical DRC events.

DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials (Dec. 2013):  “Teams with both the Atlas and custom robotic platforms will participate in the first physical competition, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials. At the Trials, robots will perform an array of individual disaster response operations. High-performing teams will be provided with continued funding to support participation in the final Challenge event in December 2014.”

In the DRC Trials in December 2013, the robots will need to perform disaster response operations in 8 vignettes that will likely include the following events:

·         Drive a utility vehicle at the site
·         Travel dismounted across rubble
·         Remove debris blocking an entryway
·         Open a door and enter a building
·         Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial catwalk
·         Use a power tool to break through a barrier
·         Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe
·         Attach a connector such as a wire harness or fire hose

Communication degradation will vary based throughout the Challenge based on teams’ abilities.

And, last but not least…

bleep bleep awesome bloop.  (Graphic illustration provided by DARPA)

His name is Thor. That, my friends, is an AWESOME robot name. (Graphic illustration provided by DARPA)

DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals (Dec. 2014): “DARPA will host the final Challenge event, an end-to-end disaster-style scenario, in which teams will compete for $2,000,000 USD. Details of the final competition will be unveiled at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials.”

In December 2014, DARPA anticipates that the teams will be able to perform all of the 8 tasks as part of one continuous physical disaster scenario.

I guess that’s why that one gets the big bucks.  SO!  Who is up for the challenge eh?  I mean this is pretty much a win/win here.  You get to build a robot, designed to help people, for money.  I mean, what part of that doesn’t sound like the absolutely awesome makings of a 1980’s SciFi comedy, am I right?

But seriously, this is really an amazing chance for innovators and inventors to strut their mechanical stuff for some really great reasons.  I guess there’s nothing left but to say, good luck and happy building!

Oh, and I have a little contest of my own.  I will award a high five to the first person who names their robot after Armed with Science.  If that’s not an incentive to do something then I don’t know what is.

Want to participate in the DARPA Robotics Challenge?  Click here for the details!

Information for this story provided by DARPA

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.


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