darpa-robotics

A total of $3.5 million in prizes will now be awarded to the top three finishers in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC), the final event of which will be held June 5-6, 2015, at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. On top of the previously announced $2 million grand prize, DARPA plans to award $1 million to the runner-up and $500,000 to the third-place team. DARPA says it expects at least twenty teams to compete in the DRC Finals.

In June 2014, DARPA announced a series of additional hurdles that teams will face in the Finals:

  • Robots will have to operate completely without wires—they may not be connected to power cords, fall arrestors, or wired communications tethers. Teams will have to communicate with their robots over a secure wireless network.
  • Teams are not allowed any physical intervention with their robot after it begins a run. If a robot falls or gets stuck, it will have to recover and continue with the tasks without any hands-on assistance. If a robot cannot sustain and recover from a fall, its run will end.
  • DARPA will intentionally degrade communications between the robots and human operators working at a distance. The idea is to replicate the conditions these robots would face going into a disaster zone. Spotty communication will force the robots to make some progress on their own during communications blackouts.

The teams using the DARPA-developed Atlas robot got their first look at the newly upgraded system during a technical shakeout the week of January 12th in Waltham, Mass. The upgraded Atlas is 75 percent new—only the lower legs and feet were carried over from the original design, says DARPA. The upgraded robot is 6-foot-2 and weighs 345 pounds. Atlas will now carry an onboard 3.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack as well, with the potential for one hour of “mixed mission” operation that includes walking, standing, use of tools, and other movements.

The seven DRC teams using Atlas are scheduled to receive their upgraded robots by the end of January. The robots will be delivered with a “battery emulator,” a training tool temporarily mounted in the robot that simulates how the real battery will perform. This will allow them to switch modes between constant voltage for routine practice and metered voltage to simulate actual battery life.

Given their identical hardware, the Atlas teams will have to differentiate themselves through software, control interfaces, and competition strategy. New teams interested in competing in the DRC have until February 2, 2015, to register and submit qualification materials. DARPA will announce the roster of qualified teams in early March.

[Image courtesy: DARPA]