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DARPA Developing Autonomous Robots

Defense agency leading initiative to build mobile manipulators that work independently on tasks too dangerous for humans.

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The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) has launched a new program aimed at building robots with a greater degree of autonomy than existing machines.

The program, called Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM), will develop robots that mainly act themselves and only require "high-level supervision by an operator," according to an agency statement.

DARPA is incorporating an interactive aspect to the program, creating two prototypes, one of which it will open up for public development, the agency said.

The agency is showing the robot this week at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference in Denver, where it will invite the public to write software, test it, and upload it to the actual system, and then watch via the Internet as the robot executes the software.

DARPA also will encourage global participation among teams that contribute software via ARM's development outreach feature, the agency said.

Early DARPA investments in robots to do tasks that are dangerous for humans -- such as countering explosive devices -- have helped save lives and reduce casualties, the agency said. However, they require "significant human interaction," which makes them slow to complete tasks.

The robots developed by ARM would have the capability to perform even more military tasks and missions than existing machines, according to DARPA.

ARM will last four years and has separate hardware and software teams.

Teams working on the hardware for the program come from iRobot, Sandia National Laboratories, and SRI International, who are developing designs for new multi-finger hands. Development will focus on keeping costs low with high design quality, according to DARPA.

Six teams are working on the software for the new robots, from Carnegie Mellon University, HRL Laboratories, iRobot, NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, SRI, and the University of Southern California.

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