DARPA's robotics challenge concluded this weekend and $3.5m has been apportioned between the three best-performing teams. Robots that competed in the event were scored on how many of the eight tasks they managed to complete, with the amount of time taken to complete those tasks used as a tiebreaker.
23 teams participated in the two-day finals, sending out their humanoid robots tincandroids on DARPA-constructed simulated rescue operations.
The machines were required to drive a car to the test site, open a door, cross rubble, go up some stairs, cut through a wall, open an industrial rotary valve, and perform a mystery task – which turned out to be unplugging a wire and plugging it in another outlet – all without continuous human control.
At the end of the first day it was Carnegie Mellon University's team, Tartan Rescue, who were in the lead. Their robot, lovingly called CHIMP (CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform), completed all eight tasks in 55 minutes and 15 seconds.
CHIMP would be overtaken, however, by Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Florida, and its robot Running Man, which completed the tasks in 50 minutes and 26 seconds.
But even this sterling effort was outdone by the South Korean Team KAIST's DRC-Hubo, which completed the tasks in the extraordinarily brief 44 minutes and 28 seconds.
The DARPA program manager and challenge organiser Gill Pratt congratulated all of the participating teams – though four of them completed no tasks in no minutes – and thanked them all for helping to open a new era of partnership between robots and humans.
"These robots are big and made of lots of metal and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety," Pratt said. "But we heard groans of sympathy when those robots fell. And what did people do every time a robot scored a point? They cheered! It's an extraordinary thing, and I think this is one of the biggest lessons from DRC – the potential for robots not only to perform technical tasks for us, but to help connect people to one another."
The challenge, ostensibly launched in response to a humanitarian need following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011, aimed to "accelerate progress in robotics and hasten the day when robots have sufficient dexterity and robustness to enter areas too dangerous for humans and mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters."
Team KAIST, which placed first, was awarded $2m. Team IHMC Robotics, which placed second, was awarded $1m. Tartan Rescue, which placed third, was awarded $500,000.
"This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters," said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar.
"I am so proud of all the teams that participated and know that the community the DRC has helped to catalyse will do great things in the years ahead." ®