In just two short months, DARPA will hold their epic robotics challenge.
The challenge? To create a human-robot system to help in the case of a disaster. The finalists are selected from a pool of applicants by DARPA for their performance in a set of trials.
In the final challenge:
- Robots will not be connected to power cords, fall arrestors, or wired communications tethers
- Humans will not be allowed to physically intervene if a robot falls or get stuck—robots that fall will have to do so without breaking and will have to get up without assistance
- Speed will be more heavily weighted in the scoring, and all tasks must be completed in a total time of approximately one hour (versus four hours in the DRC Trials)
- Communications will be further degraded and intermittent.
So what does this mean in real world terms? Each robot will drive a car, move across rubble, open doors, use tools and climb stairs.
While it’s possible the competition will usher in SkyNet, it’s also possible it will help to create a robot utopia.1
So, let’s meet the contestants! This week, we’re introducing you to NASA. Okay, fine you’ve probably heard of NASA, but have you heard of their RoboSimian project?
Designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Clyde the RoboSimian, competed in the DARPA challenge in 2013. The video above shows just some of the skills Clyde displayed in the earlier challenge. While the team came in 5th, now he’s back and ready to take on the competition.
While the RoboSimian doesn’t have a head, it does have seven cameras, which act as eyes. It also has four identical limbs that can act as both arms and legs. The simian resemblance isn’t an accident, the robots need to go where people can not, so while wheels may make a robot faster, Clyde’s lumbering ape-like gait allows the ‘bot to move across the rough terrain of a disaster zone.
And, the perceived friendly appearance of the ‘bot? Also not accidental:
“We included industrial designers in the team in an effort to create a robot that looked professional rather than either threatening or overly cute,” said Kennedy. “Basically, we wanted the perceptual equivalent of a St. Bernard.”2
So, while slower than the other entries, Clyde’s design gives him a couple of legs up over the competition. And, once Clyde gets where it’s going it probably won’t scare the bejeezus out of the person being rescued. But, Clyde has one more secret weapon in his arsenal. The software of the Mars Rover. For real. Curiosity got a software update based on the work done on RoboSimian. Brett Kennedy, one of the lead engineers for Curiosity’s robot arm is also the principal investigator for RoboSimian.3
Stay tuned to Bitter Empire to meet another contender for the two million dollar prize and the title of DARPA robot champion of the world.4
Featured Image Credit: NASA