Culminating a year and a half of intensive preparation by teams from around the world, nearly two dozen robots last week strove to prove their full-metal mettle in simulated disaster zones during day one of the two-day DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, being held at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.
The DRC is an outdoor, head-to-head competition of robots (well, at least for those that actually have heads), launched in response to a need that became glaringly clear during the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011: robots that could go into areas too dangerous for humans, to mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters. The competition demands that participating robots complete a difficult course of tasks such as driving alone, walking through rubble, climbing stairs and turning valves.
Participating teams represent some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world. They have been collaborating and innovating to develop the hardware, software, sensors and human-machine control interfaces to enable their robots to succeed—and perhaps to win part of the $3.5 million in prizes. That work was apparent yesterday as the crowds cheered dramatic moments of success—a robot grabbing a power tool off a shelf and, as required by the competition rules, cutting a hole through the wall.
But the huge amount of work that is yet to be done was also apparent. Robot after robot teetered and fell, sometimes twitching for a few moments as if in frustration or pain, bringing groans from the grandstands and even a question from a reporter later in the day: “Is the MIT robot okay?”
Click here to see a congratulatory letter about the DRC Finals from President Obama.