2013 DARPA robotic time trails to bring humanoid robots to life in future disaster scenarios

By Shepard Ambellas

A $2M contest has got robotic teams on edge as they will battle to prove the robots they have developed are a success in a DARPA time-trial this weekend

HOMESTEAD, FL (INTELLIHUB) — The Pentagon’s DARPA division will once again be conducting a revolutionary robotic time-trial race this Friday and Saturday at the Homestead Miami Speedway, in which 17 humanoid robots will be challenged with various tasks for the DARPA Robotics Challenge 2013.

According to the Robotics Challenge website, “The Trials will provide a baseline on the current state of robotics and determine which teams will continue on to the DRC Finals in 2014 with continued DARPA funding. Competing in the 2014 Finals will lead to one team winning a $2 million prize.”

So what will these robots eventually be used for?

According to DARPA:

The DRC is a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters.  It was designed to be extremely difficult.  Participating teams, representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline to develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will enable their robots to complete a series of challenge tasks selected by DARPA for their relevance to disaster response.  Three sequential DRC events place equal emphasis on hardware and software:

  • the Virtual Robotics Challenge occurred in June 2013 and tested software teams’ ability to effectively guide a simulated robot through three sample tasks in a virtual environment;
  • the DRC Trials occur December 20-21, 2013 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where teams will attempt to guide their robots through eight individual, physical tasks that test mobility, manipulation, dexterity, perception, and operator control mechanisms;
  • the DRC Finals will occur at the end of 2014 and will require robots to attempt a circuit of consecutive physical tasks, with degraded communications between the robots and their operators; the winning team will receive a $2 million prize. 

Technologies resulting from the DRC will transform the field of robotics and catapult forward development of robots featuring task-level autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in disaster zones.

A few of the challenges that robot team participants will have to navigate are rather complex and interesting to say the least.

2013 challenges from DARPA’s website include:

Drive and Exit Utility Vehicle: The hardest single task and the one that requires the most robot-human interaction. The operators must direct the robots to drive the vehicle safely despite occasional communications disruptions. Getting out of the driver’s seat poses significant strength and dexterity challenges for the robots.

Walk Across Rough Terrain: The robots must maintain their balance and identify safe routes for placement of limbs.

Remove Debris From Doorway: Robots must demonstrate a wide range of motion, in addition to balance and strength, to clear a path forward.

Open Series of Doors: Moving the doors in an arc challenges the robots’ perception and dexterity. The robots must figure out how to align and move themselves as they open each door.

Climb Industrial Ladder: To avoid falls, the robots must safely navigate the ladder and maintain their balance as they climb. Strength is required to stop a fall.

Cut Through Wall: Using power tools tests the robots’ strength, dexterity and ability to perceive their environment.  The robots must also simultaneously apply rigid force to hold a tool, yet demonstrate the flexibility to smoothly manipulate it.

Carry and Connect Fire Hose: The robots must identify the standpipe and then transport a bulky, non-rigid item (the fire hose) to it. The robots must then have sufficient dexterity and strength to attach the hose to a standpipe and open the spigot.

Locate and Close Leaking Valves: The robots must identify the valves, determine which ones are open and have a sufficient range of motion to turn the valve wheels in an arc to close them.

(Photo: Boston Dynamics)