Out of the fifteen teams that entered the DARPA robot challenge, the winner was a robot from a Google-owned start-up company. The machine from team Schaft successfully completed all eight of the rescue-themed tasks and came top of the leaderboard, with a fairly wide margin when compared to the rivals.
The challenge that took place near Miami, Florida, was organised by Pentagon’s research unit. The motivation for this event was to try and develop robots that can do more during disasters. It became clear during the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown in 2011, that robots have some serious limitations.
“What we realised was … these robots couldn’t do anything other than observe,” said Gill Pratt, programme manager for the Darpa Robotics Challenge. “What they needed was a robot to go into that reactor building and shut off the valves.”
Some teams entered their own robots, whereas others used Boston Dynamics’ robot Atlas and applied their own software to control it.
Three of the teams that took part in the competition failed to score any points and when you see the gruelling challenges they had to complete you begin to understand why.
To really push designers to develop more adept robots, the teams were set challenges, with a thirty-minute time-limit for each one. Some of the tasks included:
- Drive a utility vehicle along a course
- Climb an 8ft-high (2.4m) ladder
- Remove debris blocking a doorway
- Pull open a lever-handled door
- Cross a course that featured ramps, steps and unfastened blocks
- Cut a triangular shape in a wall using a cordless drill
- Close three air valves, each controlled by a different-sized wheel or lever
- Unreel a hose and then screw its nozzle into a wall connector
The winning robot from Schaft stood at 1.48m tall and was the favourite to win from the start. Developed by a spin-off from the University of Tokyo’s Jouhou System Kougaku lab, the robot was built with a new high-voltage liquid-cooled motor technology that uses a capacitor rather than a battery. Its creators explain that it is this new technology that allows it to move and pivot its arms at higher speeds, effectively giving it stronger “muscles”.
The team scored a total of 27 points out of a possible 32. It would have been a perfect score but points were lost when “the wind blew a door out of their robot’s hold and because their robotic creation was not able to climb out of a vehicle after it successfully navigated an obstacle course,” reported the Japan Daily Press.
Schaft and the other seven top-scorers can now apply for more DARPA funds of up to $1m for robot improvements, before competeting in the 2014 finals.
[Images via DARPA]