Japanese Robot Scores Big, Wins DARPA Robotics Challenge
December 23, 2013

Japanese Robot Scores Big, Wins DARPA Robotics Challenge

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The latest phase of the DARPA Robotics Challenge came to a conclusion this weekend, with the winning robot scoring 27 out of a possible 32 points.

Schaft, a Japanese-built robot, was the winner of this weekend’s contest, which included a series of trials designed to see how humanoid robots could perform in disaster relief scenarios. The bipedal robot, which is based on the existing SCHAFT HPR-2 robot, stands at 5-feet tall and weighs a hefty 209-pounds.

The Robotics Challenge took place at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida over the weekend. The teams included a mix of government, academic, and commercial organizations from around the world.

“The event itself had the atmosphere of a sporting event. Crowds lined the balconies in the garage stands, watching the tasks in the pit lane on one side and the parking lot on the other. Loudspeakers broadcast live play-by-play and color commentary while two Jumbotron screens showed live footage, team rankings and video vignettes about the teams and the DRC program,” DARPA wrote in a statement.

Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager running the competition, said Homestead is no stranger to the devastation from natural disaster. In 1992 the area faced Hurricane Andrew, which killed 65 people and caused more than $26 billion in damage.

DARPA said the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown inspired it to create the Robotics Challenge. The agency said that if advanced robots had been on hand at Fukushima, then they might have performed actions similar to those done in the trial to avert disaster.

“The robots we see today are the robots of science fact, not science fiction,” Pratt said before the event started. “They’ll be slow, and they will often fail. But we hope today’s modest progress will be a good next step to help save mankind from disasters.”

For the competition, DARPA had to turn the NASCAR racetrack into a simulated disaster area. The agency built areas for robots to perform a series of simple tasks like opening doors or walking a short distance. The areas tested the robots’ autonomous perception, autonomous decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity and strength.

Teams in the competition were scored based on their robots’ performance, with all eight tasks carrying equal weight. Eight of the top scoring teams may still receive DARPA funding to prepare for the finals scheduled for late 2014.

“We’re here to help developers, show them what’s working in their systems and what’s not, and send them home with checklists of what they can work on for the Finals,” Adam Jacoff, a robotics research engineer with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) who led the design and development of the tasks, said in a statement.

Brad Tousley, director of the Tactical Technology Office that oversees the competition, said that this year’s event distinguished itself from last year’s mainly because a lot of teams had a lot of points, which is an indication of a lot of progress happening. He said he was pleased with the enthusiasm he saw among the teams and spectators, including students from local schools.

“The efforts of the scientists, engineers and students in robotics give us a reality check into technology’s art of the possible,” Jyuji Hewitt, deputy director of the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said in a statement. “DARPA’s robotics competition provides an exciting and positive venue for teams from all over the world to demonstrate their efforts. I was impressed with the results and the event overall.”