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10/25/2012
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Humanoid Robot Challenge Kicks Off At DARPA

Inventors compete to build DARPA robot that can use human hand tools, drive vehicles, and climb ladders in a disaster scenario.

14 Amazing DARPA Technologies On Tap
14 Amazing DARPA Technologies On Tap
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
For the next two years, researchers and scientists from the nation's top robotics shops in government, academia, and the private sector will compete for a $2 million prize to see who can build a robot that can use human hand tools, drive vehicles, and climb ladders in a disaster scenario.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Robotics Challenge, announced in April and launched Wednesday, will bring together some of the nation's top robotics engineers in a bid to develop some of the most advanced robotics yet built.

The challenge requires teams to build robots and robotics software that can navigate through the scene of a disaster. In addition to using tools, driving, and climbing ladders, the robots will have to traverse rubble and move debris.

The challenge is divided into several different tracks, including one that calls for new robots, one that's looking for new software for existing robots, one that wants software for a simulated robot, and one that doesn't use DARPA funding and can have international entrants.

[ Also read NASA Funds 8 Advanced Robotics Projects. ]

Among the participants is a who's who in science, computing, engineering, and robotics. Teams come from, among other places, Carnegie Mellon University, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Washington.

The first track, Track A, requires the most hardware work, because teams will have to build their own robots. DARPA already has released concept art and details on the teams' proposed robots. Most of these, such as Carnegie Mellon's proposed CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform (CHIMP), and Drexel University's Hubo, will be humanoid, but they need not be. For example, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is building RoboSimian, which looks something like a four-legged crab.

Among the humanoid robots, some look like they have hands, others claws, and others with at least one hand made to support tools. A few have eyes. All have four limbs.

Track B will receive a modified version of DARPA's Atlas robot, a predecessor of which, Pet-Proto, can be seen navigating obstacles in a new YouTube video. Atlas was built by Boston Dynamics.

Track C will make use of simulation software called DRC Simulator, and the challenge itself will take place in June 2013, with a qualifying round in May 2013. The DRC Simulator is open source and already has been released in beta form. DARPA says that it plans to add a number of features to the software, including robot models, sensors, and advanced physics models.

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