The $2 million Robotics Challenge, run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is a competition for the most advanced robots in the world. The three-year competition is less than halfway over, but there was already a clear frontrunner: the Japanese team Schaft, which posted videos on YouTube of their incredible robot performing all the tasks weeks before the qualifying round. But today, DARPA announced that the Schaft team will be dropping out of the competition.
The development is disappointing for robotics fans, who won't get to see Schaft's prowess on display. But it wasn't entirely unexpected. Schaft was founded expressly to compete in the Robotics Challenge, but that trajectory changed when Google decided to acquire the company in November to add to its growing stable of robotics startups.
The Google acquisition made things a little awkward. Via the competition, Schaft was accepting money from the Defense Department, which meant Google was accepting money from the Defense Department. To complicate things, Google had also recently purchased Boston Dynamics, which is also participating in the challenge in a supporting role.
In March, Schaft announced it was renouncing DARPA funding but would stay in the competition. It seems Google has changed its mind since then. "Team Schaft has elected to withdraw from the finals," DARPA program manager Gill Pratt told reporters on a press call today. "They are going to be focusing on the development of their first commercial product. It was a very difficult decision for them, but they've really done extremely well and we're really glad to see them being successful now in the commercial world." Robotics fans, you can now be excited again.