Monday, December 23, 2013

Disaster-response robots competition - DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013

A fascinating use of robotics. The challenge here is that the robotic makers need to create a robot which can help in a natural type disaster situation. I guess the main problem would of course be getting the robot into the actual area having the disaster, as we all have learned, Governments sure can take their time with their reactions to disasters.

The article also includes a YouTube video.

Via The Watchers, 20 December 2013

The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is extremely difficult competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. Seventeen teams from around the world will be participating in the DRC Trials on December 20 - 21, 2013 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, USA.

The teams participating in the challenge represent some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world which 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 their relevance to disaster response.

All teams will attempt to guide their robots through eight individual, physical tasks that test mobility, manipulation, dexterity, perception, and operator control mechanisms. Up to eight teams will then move forward with DARPA funding to compete in the DRC Finals, where other teams will also be welcome to compete using independent sources of funding. The Finals will occur December 20 - 21, 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.

Why Robotics Challenge?

During the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, which drove creation of the DRC, the simple act of turning a valve and venting hydrogen in the reactor buildings might have prevented catastrophe. However, that single capability is not enough for an effective disaster response robot. The DRC Trials tasks require robots to demonstrate that they can move from a sanctuary area to a danger zone and then work effectively once there. All eight of the tasks to be tested are deemed equally necessary.

DARPA expects that the technologies resulting from the competition 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.

DRC competition was announced in April 2012 when DARPA released a solicitation for systems and software teams to submit proposals. At the same time, DARPA announced its intent to issue a contract to Boston Dynamics (recently acquired by Google) to begin development of the Atlas robot, a hydraulically powered robot in the form of an adult human.

Because disasters are so unpredictable in their manifestation and effects, the type of robots DARPA envisions to aid in these situations must be adaptable and require four key capabilities to be effective:

  • Mobility and dexterity to maneuver in the degraded environments typical of disaster zones;
  • Ability to manipulate and use a diverse assortment of tools designed for humans;
  • Ability to be operated by humans who have had little to no robotics training;
  • Partial autonomy in task-level decision-making based on operator commands and sensor inputs

The DRC Trials will test all of these capabilities, but primarily mobility, manipulation, and dexterity. The DRC Finals will be a more robust and demanding test of all four capabilities.

Trials will give DARPA a baseline on the current state of robotics and determine which teams will continue to receive DARPA funding to expand on their potential. Imposing and unusual as the robots competing in the trials might seem, they will move slowly through the tasks.

Like a one-year-old child beginning to walk and interact with the world, there will be stumbles and falls.
When the DARPA Grand Challenges first tested driverless vehicle technology, the competitors got off to a shaky start, but there was extraordinary improvement in the year between the two challenges.

Similarly, the DRC Trials are expected to mark the beginning of an historic transformation in robotics.
By the time of the DRC Finals, it is expected that the robots will demonstrate roughly the competence of a two-year-old child, giving them the ability to autonomously carry out simple commands such as “Clear the debris in front of you” or “Close the valve.”

The robots will still need to be told by human operators which tasks to chain together to achieve larger goals, but DARPA’s hope is that this demonstration will show the promise disaster response robots hold for mitigating the effects of future disasters.

Continue to the full article (its a real long one - Laron)

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