DARPA Latest Trials Challenge to test Robotics Efficiency in Disaster Response

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA is the key node government body for robotics developments in the US. A team from the Hong Kong University is also attending the contest in collaboration with the Case Western University. The agency periodically arranges robotics challenges to evaluate, organize, and synchronize the latest developments in the field. The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is about to happen next month where competing teams would fulfill different obligations to present the latest in the robotics development field. The challenge essentially has a track-system segregation.

There would be three tracks for testing the performance of the robots in disaster management situations. The teams in trial track A would participate in the competition with their own robots. Teams participating in the trial Track B/C would receive a Boston Dynamics ATLAS robot from DARPA. The teams in tracks B and C of the challenge would have to program the ATLAS systems to meet the requirements of the challenges.   

The allocation of the ATLAS humanoid robots from Boston Dynamics was a competitive process of its own. In fact, it was the first stage of the DRC that selected six finalists to receive the ATLAS humanoid systems, open to programming. The teams also received the necessary funding allocation from DARPA to program the humanoid systems in optimizing their skill sets. However, when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA decided to shift its concentration on the innovativeness of the track A participants, DARPA extended its resources to three additional teams. The final teams are ready already and reports state that they are looking forward to present the performance in the highly competitive environment.

The top level challenge would provide the government agencies like DARPA and NASA with the necessary insights on the advancements in robotics from researchers all over the US. As an example of the system interpreting itself in competitive environments, two teams from NASA are also in the track A of the challenge. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Jognson Space Center are sending in their individual teams for the competition. The track A teams include the robot from National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) of the Carnegie Mellon University. Other track A participants include robots from the Drexel University and Virginia Tech. Private robot manufacturer SCHAFT Inc. is also participating in the track A challenge.

The team B/C also includes several top contenders from the robotics world. The names include team IHMC, team ViGIR, and team TROOPER. The WRECS or the WPI Robotics Engineering C Squad would also be a contender. Many eyes would be on the reputed MIT or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Besides them, there are the team TRACLabs and team HKU. The last team represents a collaboration of the team Hong Kong University, team K, and the team from Case Western University.

The competition schedule is on December 20-21. The teams competing in either track have to program their robots to accomplish a sequence of 8 critical responsibilities. These are all physical responsibilities simulating the conditions in actual disaster scenarios. The vision guided machines would have a 30 minutes window to perform each task effectively. The event site has three specially prepared sites to develop the simulation of a disaster scenario. DARPA thinks that 30 minutes should be just sufficient to show the performance of the robots in critical disaster circumstances.