Robots are coming closer and closer to performing life saving duties. But the Defense Department’s Advance Research Project Agency is now putting up a $2 million prize to whomever can help push the state-of-the-art in robotics.
As part of DARPA‘s upcoming Robotics Challenge, which will launch in October 2012, DARPA is seeking teams that will be able to compete with robots that will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks that replicate real-world disaster-response requirements.
A glimpse of how far robots have already come can be seen in a video from DARPA showing a robot, developed by Boston Dynamics, climbing stairs, walking on a treadmill and doing pushups.
However, while the robot in the video offers a human-like capabilities, any designs are welcome, DARPA said, provided “they are compatible with shared human-robot environments, compatible with human tools, and compatible with human operators so that a human without expertise in robotics can give commands and confidently anticipate the response.”
Robots of course are already playing an increasing role in disasters and war environments, helping relief teams in the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, for instance. They are also used by U.S. military forces to assist servicemembers in diffusing improvised explosive devices.
What we need to do now is move beyond the state of the art.”
And DARPA, along with a growing number of federal agencies are capturing new and more advanced ideas through the use of challenge contests, such as DARPA’s recent Shredder Challenge that challenged teams to develop new and better ways to reconstitute shredded documents.
“The work of the global robotics community brought us to this point-robots do save lives, do increase efficiencies and do lead us to consider new capabilities,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager.
“What we need to do now is move beyond the state of the art. This challenge is going to test supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength and endurance in an environment designed for human use but degraded due to a disaster,” Pratt said in DARPA’s announcement.
“Adaptability is also essential because we don’t know where the next disaster will strike. The key to successfully completing this challenge requires adaptable robots with the ability to use available human tools, from hand tools to vehicles,” he said.
DARPA is looking for new innovations that could allow robotics hardware and software technology to intervene in high-risk situations and save human lives or contain the impact of natural and man-made disasters.
“Robots undoubtedly capture the imagination, but that alone does not justify an investment in robotics,” said DARPA Acting Director, Kaigham J. Gabriel. “For robots to be useful to DoD they need to offer gains in either physical protection or productivity. The most successful and useful robots would do both via natural interaction with humans in shared environments.”