DARPA Wants More Efficient Robots
July 4, 2012

DARPA Wants More Efficient Robots

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A robot capable of disabling a roadside bomb is pointless if it runs out of power, so DARPA is creating a goal to create a more efficient robot.

The agency created the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) Actuation program, with the goal of achieving a 2,000 percent increase in the efficiency of power transmission and application in robots.

"Humans and animals have evolved to consume energy very efficiently for movement," DARPA said in a press release. "Bones, muscles and tendons work together for propulsion using as little energy as possible. If robotic actuation can be made to approach the efficiency of human and animal actuation, the range of practical robotic applications will greatly increase and robot design will be less limited by power plant considerations."

Its new M3 robotic program will add a new dimension to DARPA's suite of robotics research and development work, the agency said.

“By exploring multiple aspects of robot design, capabilities, control and production, we hope to converge on an adaptable core of robot technologies that can be applied across mission areas,” Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager, said in a press release. “Success in the M3 Actuation effort would benefit not just robotics programs, but all engineered, actuated systems, including advanced prosthetic limbs.”

DARPA is asking for proposals from the public to present solutions that will require input from a range of scientific and engineering specialties.

The agency said the teams sending the proposals are expected to be able to develop and apply actuation mechanisms inspired in part by humans and animals.

Technical areas of interest include low-loss power modulation, arable recruitment of parallel transducer elements, high-bandwidth variable impedance matching, adaptive inertial and gravitational load cancellation, and high-efficiency power transmission between joints.

The proposals will have to be able to cover two tracks of work, DARPA said. The first track asks the teams to develop and demonstrate high-efficiency actuation technology that will allow robots similar to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) platform to have twenty times longer endurance than the current DRC GFE when running on untethered battery power.

"Using Government Furnished Information about the GFE, M3 Actuation performers will have to build a robot that incorporates the new actuation technology," DARPA said. "These robots will be demonstrated at, but not compete in, the second DRC live competition scheduled for December 2014."

The second track required is tailored to performers who want to explore ways of improving the efficiency of actuators, but at scales larger and smaller than applicable to the DRC GFE platform.

DARPA said that track 2 essentially seeks to advance the science and engineering behind actuation without the requirement to apply it at this point.

Performers on M3 Actuation will be asked to share their designed approaches at the first DRC live competition scheduled for December 2013, DARPA said. The teams will have to demonstrate their final systems at the second DRC live competition scheduled for December 2014.

Full details of the program and instructions on how to prepare and submit proposals are provided in the BAA, which is available on the Federal Business Opportunities website at http://go.usa.gov/wDF.