Robotics Challenge From DARPA
“…ideal robot candidate would be capable of completing an obstacle course that puts military training courses to shame…”
If I had told you five years ago that the government-funded research agency known as DARPA was going to be hosting a robotics competition, would you have believed me? I’m not sure that I would have. The story sounds more like a really cool sci-fi film more than it does reality, but this is what our world’s technological advancements are taking us. Isn’t it exciting?
Dubbed the “DARPA Robotics Challenge,” the competition is set to begin this October, once research contracts have been awarded; however, unfunded teams are also invited to participate. The first round will be a virtual competition only. This means that the robotics teams will be telecommuting to the challenge, with the first round’s fight being strictly software-on-software. Those that make it past this first round will have the chance to fight in real-world competitions, which are scheduled to be held in both December 2013 and 2014.
While it would be cool to think that the government funded this sort of thing for the nation’s pleasure, the competition was in fact designed by DARPA, in cooperation with the Department of Defense, for the purpose of robotics testing. These competitions will test the capabilities of various robots, as a method of providing valuable feedback to researchers. The ultimate goal is to design a robot that is equipped to handle and provide aid during catastrophes, such as assisting FEMA with disaster recovery in the US. However, in order to get to that point, researchers must first develop specific computer algorithms that can control the robot’s behavior with the utmost precision. Given that these robots will be using equipment created for humans, they must be designed to operate in a similar fashion. This means that they will have to be programmed to handle and operate tools and equipment originally meant for humans, though I’m sure that robotic disaster-aid equipment won’t be too far off.
The ideal robot candidate would be capable of completing an obstacle course that puts military training courses to shame, and then some. DARPA released a document outlining the requirements of the Robotics Challenge, including the details of an example disaster scenario where the robots will be competing against each other. The end-result to discover the models that are the most capable of completing the necessary response procedures.
The course is outlined as follows: The robots must drive a utility vehicle across the disaster site. Upon exiting the vehicle, they must travel over rubble until they reach an entryway blocked by debris, which must be removed if they are to continue. They will then make their way to a nearby doorway and into a building, where their next obstacle is climbing a ladder, before maneuvering across an industrial walkway. At the end of the walkway will be a concrete wall, requiring the robots to use a tool in order to break through. On the other side, they must not only locate and shut off the valve that is responsible for a nearby leaking pipe, but they must also find and repair the connected cooling pump. And that’s just what they have to do for now. As researchers uncover new information, the course will be updated accordingly. Their overall goal is to have the robots maneuver across a simulated disaster-zone that takes into account real-world concerns such as cost, safety and optimum performance.
The manual goes into greater detail about each obstacle, as well outlining the rules for taking part in the challenge. Potential participants will have to meet strenuous requirements just to be considered for funding to further their robotics projects, which will already have been in the works. If recent advancements in robotics are a sign of what is to come, the competition will likely be large and come from all parts of the globe. In my opinion, our next era is going to go down in history as the robotic age. The rate of advancement is staggering, and it can only continue to grow. This is in part due to the open source projects and world-wide cooperation in the field. Nations are putting aside their differences for the sake of science and to me that is just awesome.
You can learn more at the DARPA Robotics Competition website.
Also check out, straight from Japan, the unbeatable “Rock, Paper, Scissors” robot
– By Julie Tutwiler