Judgement Day Update: DARPA Robotics Challenge!

darpa-robotics-challenge-conceptFor the past two years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been holding a series of trials where robots are tasked with navigating disaster areas and performing tasks with tools and materials provided. This is known as the Robotics Challenge, which took place from Dec.20th to 21st and was streamed live from Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway.

And this year, Google’s Schaft humanoid robot took home the top prize after scoring 27 points out of a total of 32 points. IHMC Robotics, based in Florida, grabbed second place, while Carnegie Mellon University’s Team Tartan Rescue placed third. Eight of the top teams that participated in the challenge may receive as much as $1 million in funding from DARPA, ahead of further trials next year with a $2 million prize.

schaft_robotBuilt by a Japanese start-up – one of Google’s many recent acquisitions – the Schaft is an updated version of the Humanoid Robot Project robot (HRP-2), with hardware and software modifications that include more powerful actuators, a walking/stabilization system, and a capacitor instead of a battery. The robot stands 1.48 m (4.8 ft) tall, weighs in at 95 kg (209 lb), and is generally unappealing to the eye.

However, what it lacks in photogenic quality, it makes up for in performance. Over the course of the trials, the bipedal robot was able to bring stable walking and significant torque power to fore as it opened doors, wielded hoses, and cut away part of a wall. However, team Schaft lost points when a gust of wind blew a door out of the robot’s hand and the robot was unable to exit a vehicle after navigated a driving course successfully.

Check out the video of the Schaft in action:


Initially, over 100 teams applied to compete when the challenged was announced in April of last year. After a series of reviews and virtual challenges, the field was narrowed down to 16 competing in four “tracks. On Track A, Schaft was joined by the RoboSimian, the robot recently built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Another primate-like robot was the Tartan Rescue CHIMP, a red headless robot with rollers on its feet.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Johnson Space Center’s Valkyrie, a biped, anthropomorphic robot that honestly looks like something out of anime or Tony Stark’s closet. This latter aspect is due largely to the fact that it has a glowing chest light, though the builders claim that it’s just a bulge to make room in the torso for linear actuators to move the waist.

Valkyrie_robotOfficially designated “R5” by NASA, Val was designed to be a high-powered rescue robot, capable of traversing uneven terrain, climbing ladders, using tools, and even driving. According to the designers, the Valkyrie was designed to be human in form because:

a human form makes sense because we’re humans, and these robots will be doing the jobs that we don’t want to be doing because they’re too dangerous. To that end, Valkyrie has seven degree of freedom arms with actuated wrists and hands, each with three fingers and a thumb. It has a head that can tilt and swivel, a waist that can rotate, and six degree of freedom legs complete with feet equipped with six-axis force-torque sensors.

Unfortunately, the robot failed in its tasks this year, scoring 0 points and placing amongst the last three competitors. I guess NASA has some bugs to work out before this patently badass design can go toe-to-toe with other disaster robots. Or perhaps the anthropomorphic concept is just not up to the task. Only time and further trials will tell. And of course, there’s a video of Val in action too:


The B and C track teams are often difficult to tell apart because they all used Atlas robots. Meanwhile, the D track teams brought several of their own robots to the fore. These included Chiron, a robot that resembles a a metallic sea louse; Mojovation, a distinctly minimalist robot; South Korea’s Kaist, and China’s Intelligent Pioneer.

DARPA says that the point of the competition is to provide a baseline from which to develop robotics for disaster response. Events such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which not only damaged the reactors but made it impossible for crews to respond in time, demonstrate that robots have a potential role. DARPA believes that robots that could navigate the ruins and work in radioactive environments would have been of great help.

DARPA Robotics Challenge The problem is that current robots simply aren’t up to task. Specialized robots can’t be built to deal with the unpredictable, full telepresence control is neither practical nor desirable, and most robots tend to be a bit on the delicate side. What’s needed is a robot that can work on its own, use tools and vehicles at hand, deal with the unpredictable, and is durable and agile enough to operate in the ruins of a building.

That’s where DARPA Robotics Challenge comes in. Over the next few years, DARPA will use the results of the competition to draw a baseline that will benefit engineers working on the next generation of robots. For now, the top eight of the teams go on with DARPA funding to compete in the Robotics Finals event late next year, for a US $2 million prize.

DARPACourseIf there’s one thing the current challenge demonstrated, its that anthropomorphic designs are not well-suited to the tasks they were given. And ironic outcome, considering that one of the aims of the challenge is to develop robots capable of performing human tasks, but under conditions considered unsafe for humans. As always, the top prize goes to those who can think outside the box!

And in the meantime, enjoy this video of the Robot Challenge, taken on the second day of the trials.


Sources: gizmag.com, news.cnet.com, wired.com, IO9.com, theroboticchallenge.org

The Future is Here: The DARPA/BD Wildcat!

BD_atlasrobotThe robotics company of Boston Dynamics has been doing some pretty impressive things with robots lately. Just last year, they unveiled the Cheetah, the robotics company set a new land speed record with their four-footed robot named Cheetah. As part of DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program, the robotic feline demonstrated the ability to run at a speed of 45.06 km/h (28 mph).

And in July of this year, they impressed and frightened the world again with the unveiling of their ATLAS robot – a anthropomorphic machine. This robot took part in the DARPA Robotics Challenge program. capable of walking across multiple terrains, and demonstrated its ability to walk across multiple types of terrain, use tools, and survey its environment with a series of head-mounted sensors.

Atlas_robotAnd now, they’ve unveiled an entirely new breed of robot, one that is capable of running fast on any kind of terrain. It’s known as the WildCat, a four-legged machine that builds on the world of the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) that seeks to create a robot that can support military units in the field, carrying their heavy equipment and supplies over rugged terrain and be operated by remote.

So far, not much is known about the robot’s full capabilities and or when it is expected to be delivered. However, in a video that was released in early October, Boston Dynamics showed the most recent field test of the robot to give people a taste of what it looks like in action. In the video, the robot demonstrated a top speed of about 25 km/h (16 mph) on flat terrain using both bounding and galloping gaits.

Cheetah-robotFollowing in the footsteps of its four-legged and two-legged progeny, the WildCat represents a coming era of biomimetic machinery that seeks to accomplish impressive physical feats by imitating biology. Whereas the Atlas is designed to be capable of doing anything the human form can – traversing difficult terrain, surveying and inspecting, and using complex tools – the Cheetah, LS3, and WildCat draw their inspiration from nature’s best hunters and speed runners.

Just think of it: a race of machines that can climb rocky outcroppings with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat, run as fast as a cheetah, stalk like a lion, bound like an antelope, and swing like a monkey. When it comes right down to it, the human form is inferior in most, if not all, of these respects to our mammalian brethren. Far better that we imitate them instead of ourselves when seeking to create the perfect helpers.

LS3-AlphaDog6reducedIn the end, it demonstrates that anthropomorphism isn’t the only source of drive when it comes to developing scary and potential doomsday-bating robots! And in the meantime, be sure to enjoy these videos of these various impressive, scary, and very cool robots in action:

WildCat:


Cheetah:


Atlas:


Source:
universetoday.com, bostondynamics.com

Judgement Day Update: Headless Ape Bot

robosimianIt goes by the name of Robosimian, an ape-like robot that was built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Designed and built by JPL and Stanford engineers, RoboSimian was a recent competitor in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition where participants attempt to create strong, dextrous, and flexible robots that could aid in disasters as well as search and rescue missions.

Admittedly, the robot looks kind of creepy, due in no small part to the fact that it doesn’t have a head. But keep in mind, this machine is designed to save your life. As part of the DARPA challenge, they are intended to go places that would be too dangerous for humans. So I imagine whatever issues a person may have with its aesthetics would disappear when they spotted one crawling to their rescue.

robosimian1To win the challenge, the semi-autonomous robots will have to complete difficult tasks that demonstrate its dexterity and ambulatory ability. These include removing debris from a doorway, using a tool to break through a concrete panel, connecting a fire hose to a pipe and turning it on, and driving a vehicle at a disaster site. The competition, which began in 2012, will have its first trials in December.

Many of the teams in the challenge are creating fairly humanoid robots but RoboSimian, as its name implies, looks a bit more like an ape. And there is a reason for this: relying on four very flexible limbs, each of which has a three-fingered hand, the robot is much better suited to climbing and hanging, much like our Simian cousins. This makes it well-suited for the DARPA-set requirement of climbing a ladder, and will no doubt come in handy when the robot has to navigate difficult environments.

Robosimian2The demo video, featured below, shows the robots hands doing dextrous tasks as well as doing some pull ups. There’s also a computer renderings of what the final machine may look like. Check it out:


Source: wired.com

Judgement Day Update: The DARPA Atlas Robot

Atlas_robotJudgement Day has come early this year! At least that’s the impression I got when I took a look at this new DARPA prototype for a future robotic infantryman. With its anthropomorphic frame, servomotors and cables, sensor-clustered face, and the shining lights on its chest, this machine just screams Terminator! Yet surprisingly, it is being developed to help humans beings. Yeah, that’s what they said about Skynet, right before it nuked us!

Yes, this 6-foot, 330-pound robot, which was unveiled this past Thursday, was in fact designed as a testbed humanoid for disaster response. Designed to carry tools and tackle rough terrain, this robot – and those like it – are intended to operate in hazardous or disaster-stricken areas, assisting in rescue efforts and performing tasks that would ordinarily endanger the lives of human workers.

LS3-AlphaDog6reducedFunded by DARPA as part of their Robotics Challenge, the robot was developed by Boston Dynamics, the same people who brought you the AlphaDog – aka the Legged Squad Support System (LS3, pictured above) – and the Petman soldier robot. The former was developed as an all-terrain quadruped robot that could as an infantry-support vehicle by carrying a squad’s heavy ordinance over rough terrain.

The latter, like Atlas, was developed as testbed to see just how anthropomorphic a robot can be – i.e. whether or not it could move, run and jump with fluidity rather than awkward “robot” movements, and handle different surfaces. Some of you may recall seeing a video or two of it doing pushups and running on a treadmill back in 2011.

PetmanAlas, Atlas represents something vastly different and more complex than these other two machines. It was designed to not only walk and carry things, but can travel over rough terrain and climb using its hands and feet. Its head includes stereo cameras and a laser range finder to help it navigate its environment.

And, as Boston Dynamics claimed in a press release, the bot also possesses “sensate hands” that are capable of using human tools, and “28 hydraulically actuated degrees of freedom”. Its only weakness, at present, is the electrical power supply it is tethered to. But other than that, it is the most “human” robot – purely in terms physical capabilities – to date. Not only that, but it also looks pretty badass when seen in this full-profile pic, doesn’t it?

Atlas_4437_shrunk-1373567699341_610x903The DARPA Robotics Challenge is designed to help evolve machines that can cope with disasters and hazardous environments like nuclear power plant accidents. The seven teams currently in the challenge will get their own Atlas bot and then program it until December, when trials will be held at the Homestead Miami Speedway in Florida – where they will be presented with a series of challenges.

In the meantime, check out the video below of the Atlas robot as it demonstrates it full range of motion while busting a move! Then tell me if the robot is any less frightening to you. Can’t help but look at the full-length picture and imagine a plasma cannon in its hands, can you?


Source: news.cnet.com