This weekend about 22 teams from all over the world showed what their robots could do at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in Pomona, Calif. The 2-day robot competition was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), while the top prize was $2 million worth.
Though one may think that putting the “defense department” and “robots” in the same phrase may result in “cyborg army,” the outcomes of the contest were at some point hilarious.
Before the challenge began, somebody from DARPA joked that he expected nearly all contestants to fall down during the contest. And his words came true.
Many robots faced a real challenge in turning a door knob, walking past a pile of rubble or climbing stairs. Others were so confused by some tasks that they ended up starring at a wall.
Nearly all teams had been working on the robots for three years. The goal was to design a robot intelligent and agile enough to help aid workers to prove disaster relief. Each robotic contestant had one hour at its disposal to perform a series of tasks such as climbing stairs, opening a door, and driving a vehicle and gather as many points as it could in less time.
The point of the contest was to build a robot that can perform those tasks when their human companion couldn’t – like in case of a nuclear plant leak or an earthquake. The organizers had this idea after the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
Arati Prabahakar, head of DARPA, said that it would have been nifty to have a robotic aid in the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“Think about having a robot that could walk into a dangerously structurally unsound building but was able to get inside and look around and figure out what we need to do to get that place cleaned up,”
Mr. Prabahakar added.
Thousands of people witnessed the contest in real-time. But some accidents such as robots falling backwards on stairs or sideways on rubble reassured just about everybody that a robot apocalypse was impossible at the moment.
Also, robots were not completely autonomous. Humans still had to remotely coordinate their every single move from separate garages. For instance, one robot required nine people to get it going, while most of them need help from their human masters to recover from their falls.
After two days of struggles and falls, South Korean team (KAIST) was awarded the $2 million prize for scoring eight out of eight points in 44:28 minutes, while the IHMC team from Florida took $1 million on second place for scoring 8/8 points in 50:26 minutes.
Image Source: Spectrum