First Robotic Chimp To Compete At DARPA Robotics Challenge
March 14, 2013

That’s Bananas! Robotic Monkey To Compete At DARPA Challenge

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

In the past, we´ve seen robotic dogs, pack mules and speedy cheetahs. (The cheetah, you may recall, even set a land speed record.) Now, another DARPA Robotics Challenge contestant has looked to the Animal Kingdom for inspiration and given the world its first robotic chimpanzee.

Built by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), the CHIMP utilizes tank-like treads on its arms and legs to propel it through rocky terrain as well as scurry up trees, just like its flesh-and-blood counterpart.

The CHIMP (short for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform) measures about five-feet tall, or the size of a small human, and can be used to go into highly dangerous situations to defuse bombs or rescue humans who have fallen victim to disasters. For instance, when it competes in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, the CHIMP will be asked to climb ladders, drive vehicles and locate human victims in a situation similar to the 2011 Fukishima nuclear plant disaster.

CHIMP´s builders claim that the robot´s combination of treads and the ability to move with all four limbs on the ground gives it an advantage when it comes to moving over tricky terrain. CHIMP can also stand on two legs like a human and has the dexterity to open valves or operate a power tool.

“Humans provide high-level control, while the robot provides low-level reflexes and self-protective behaviors,” explained Tony Stentz, director of NREC´s Tartan Rescue Team who built the CHIMP.

“This enables CHIMP to be highly capable without the complexity associated with a fully autonomous robot.”

The NREC team claims CHIMP will work with “supervised autonomy.” This means while the robot is going through the DARPA tests, it will be able to navigate the course without falling over or bumping into obstacles. CHIMP will also perform a set list of tasks specific to the DARPA test, such as grasping power tools, scaling a ladder and driving a vehicle. These maneuvers will be fully automated to reduce the amount of lag between a human command and the robotic execution.

There will, however, be a human present to remotely help CHIMP along in its test. This human helper will be responsible for making some of the high-level commands, such as guiding it through the complex course and triggering the set of automated tasks.

Stentz claims the CHIMP is the first in a long line of helpful humanoid robots that are yet to come. Other NREC robots have also been built with similar tracks and wheels and can be used for similar tasks. The CHIMP is just a glimpse of what´s to come from this cutting-edge robotics group.

Though other entrants in the DARPA Robotics Challenge have chosen humanoid designs, Stentz says their decision to build an animal-humanoid hybrid could give them the advantage. Humanoid robots have capabilities similar to those of human rescue workers, but they also require a more sophisticated construction to keep them upright. This means more complex engineering and, possibly, a less dependable robot. And when human lives are on the line, one needs a robot they can trust.

“In a pinch, it can do anything,” Stentz said.

The CHIMP is also equipped with on-board sensors to build a texture-mapped, 3D model of its surroundings. This allows CHIMP to maintain stability as it ambulates and prevent collisions. This 3D model can also be used by the human assistant to give it a better picture of CHIMP´s surroundings. The human assistant also has access to multiple control modes to allow for full autonomy or supervised autonomy.