Google-Owned Robot Distances Itself From DARPA Funding
March 24, 2014

Google-Owned Robot Distances Itself From DARPA Funding

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A team competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is moving to a self-funded part of the program after receiving funding from Google last year.

DARPA announced on Friday that the Google-funded SCHAFT team will be switching to Track D, helping to free up some funds for other teams competing in the competition. SCHAFT is a Japanese-built robot that currently holds the most points in the DARPA competition. The robot became a part of Google last year when the search giant acquired an array of start-up companies in the US and Japan.

“Competitions like the Darpa Robotics Challenge stretch participants to try to solve problems that matter and we hope to learn from the teams’ insights around disaster relief,” said Google robotics executive Andy Rubin in a statement released by Google, reports John Markoff of the New York Times.

SCHAFT moving to the self-funded part of the program means Teams THOR and ViGIR will be eligible for up to $500,000 of DARPA funding.

“The decision by Team SCHAFT to self-fund allows DARPA to expand the competition and further develop disaster response robots. This expansion is similar to what happened after DARPA held the Virtual Robotics Challenge in June 2013, when some teams shifted resources and allowed us to increase participation. I look forward to seeing the results of efforts by our new finalists and new team,” DRC program manager Gill Pratt said in a statement.

Team THOR will be using the DARPA funds to work on its robot at the University of California Los Angeles and at the Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech. This bipedal, humanoid robot scored eight points during the December competition. SCHAFT won 27 out of a possible 32 points during a series of trials designed to see how humanoid robots could perform in disaster relief scenarios. Team ViGIR received just eight points as well.

“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 after the event.

Google also purchased Boston Dynamics last year, showing the company has strong interest in the robotics industry. Rubin suggested to the New York Times in December that the company could be debuting a robotic product development in the next several years.