Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Sunday, December 28, 2014
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Robots Showcase Skills at DRC 

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A month ago, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials (DRC) commenced. The main goal of the event was to aid in the development of robots that will someday respond to natural or even man-made disasters. At this year’s DRC, prototype robots from 16 teams were put through a series of trials in which they were to showcase their skills.

The trials took place at the Homestead Speedway in Homestead, Florida, over a period of two days. Eight different tasks, specifically chosen to simulate what the robots would have to do in a disaster zone, were set up to test the robots’ autonomous perception and decision-making, mobility, dexterity, and strength.

“The DRC Trials are one of the biggest robotics evaluations on Earth and dwarf many military robot tests,” said Adam Jacoff, a robotics research engineer with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) who led the design and development of the tasks. 

Based on how well their robots performed, the teams were awarded points. DARPA pledged that the top eight teams at event would receive up to $1 million in funding to continue their work in the area.

Scoring a 27 out of the maximum of 32 points was SCHAFT from Tokyo, Japan. IHMC Robotics wasn’t far behind with 20 points and Tartan Rescue secured third place with 18 points.

“At the start of the event, I said that I would be thrilled if even one team scored half the points available,” said Gill Pratt, the DARPA program manager for the DRC, during the event’s closing ceremony. “The event exceeded my expectations multiple, multiple times over, with the top four teams each scoring half or more. The success and reliability of the various hardware and software approaches that the teams demonstrated outside their laboratories was tremendous to see in action and sets an important baseline going forward.”

Pratt is already thinking about the next DRC event and even has some goals set.

“First, we’d like the robots to be more stable so they don’t fall, and if they do fall, be more robust so they won’t break,” he said. “Second, have the robots work without their tethers by using wireless communications and more efficient, self-contained power systems. Finally, we’d like the robots to use more task-level autonomy in unstructured environments such as those found in real disasters.”

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