DARPA Issues Robotics Challenge

We’ve written before about the U.S. military’s use of robots in combat, and the occasionally freaky robots under development for the Defense Department. Now DARPA is trying to take things a step further, and is offering a $2 million prize to the design team that can help “push the state-of-the-art in robotics beyond today’s capabilities in support of the DoD’s disaster recovery initiative.”

DARPA’s Robotics Challenge officially launches in 2012. Design teams will compete using robots to navigate a series of physical tasks in disaster response scenarios.The robots will need to be able to use “available human tools” (including vehicles), and the program will focus on robotic supervised autonomy, mounted/dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength, and platform endurance.

The first phase of the competition will include a virtual disaster challenge; the second phase actual disaster challenge will determine the grand prize winner. Among the tasks the robots are expected to perform: drive a utility vehicle, travel dismounted across rubble, remove debris blocking an entryway, climb a ladder, use a power tool to break through concrete, and close a valve on a leaking pipe.

“What we need to do now is move beyond the state of the art.  This challenge is going to test supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength and endurance in an environment designed for human use but degraded due to a disaster.  Adaptability is also essential because we don’t know where the next disaster will strike.  The key to successfully completing this challenge requires adaptable robots with the ability to use available human tools, from hand tools to vehicles.” — Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager

Entrants can either develop a combined hardware/software solution, or compete in a simulated software environment. Teams without hardware expertise will have access to government furnished equipment in the form of a humanoid robot developed for the contest by Boston Dynamics, based on its PETMAN/ATLAS designs.

The contest is expected to take 15 to 27 months. You can read an interview with DARPA Program Manager Gill Pratt here, and you can see a video of a stairs-climbing robotic platform from the DARPA YouTube channel below:


Source: DARPA

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