DARPA Contest Seeks Robots Designed For Disaster Zones
US agency offers $2 million reward in robotics advancement program
The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a competition which it hopes will produce robots capable of taking over key human roles in disaster zones.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge, which is set to kick off this October and last until the end of 2014, invites developers to create the software and/or hardware for supervised autonomous robots that can use tools, drive a car and adapt to challenges posed by the local environment.
Citing the pioneering role of robots in reducing the fallout from the Fukushima plant crisis last year, the program’s aim is to advance the use of the automatons in disaster relief by making them more functional and able to operate “despite low fidelity (low bandwidth, high latency, intermittent) communications”.
“Robots undoubtedly capture the imagination, but that alone does not justify an investment in robotics,” said Kaigham J. Gabriel, DARPA’s acting director, in a statement. “For robots to be useful to DoD they need to offer gains in either physical protection or productivity. The most successful and useful robots would do both via natural interaction with humans in shared environments.”
In an example disaster response scenario laid out by DARPA, robots will be expected to drive a utility vehicle, travel dismounted across rubble, remove debris from a doorway, open a door and enter a building, climb a ladder, break through a concrete panel, locate and close a leaking valve and, finally, replace a critical component (e.g. a cooling pump).
DARPA’s tests of dexterity, strength, perception, durability and mobility will be incentivised with up to $34 million (£21.4m) in grants, with one individual/team expected to take a $2 million (£1.3m) reward at the end of the program.
Developers can apply to produce both software and hardware for the robot, or the software alone. In the latter, individuals/groups will compete in DARPA’s virtual challenge and with the agency’s own hardware as well.
Up to five hardware-plus-software and 12 software-only teams will be funded by DARPA if their proposals are approved, and the organisation will also offer cloud computing resources for up to 100 other teams developing control software at their own expense. Additionally, DARPA will accept entries from teams who produce a complete system at their own expense, though the robot must pass initial qualification testing.
“The work of the global robotics community brought us to this point—robots do save lives, do increase efficiencies and do lead us to consider new capabilities,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager. “What we need to do now is move beyond the state of the art.”
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