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Tomorrow's robots drive, climb, and drill through walls at DARPA trials

The robots of the future are here, and they move very, very slowly

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This weekend 17 teams headed down to Homestead, Florida to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials, a gauntlet of eight tasks designed to test robots that could aid after natural disasters.

The tasks included driving a vehicle, traversing uneven terrain, climbing a ladder, clearing debris, opening a series of doors, drilling through a wall, opening a valve, and reeling a hose. Teams either built their own robots or wrote software to run on a Boston Dynamics Atlas robot.

It sounds simple for some of the most advanced robots in the world, but only a few teams were able to score full points on any of the tasks, and three teams scored zero points despite spending over two hours trying. Spectators witnessed a lot of falling, restarting, and waiting for robots to move.

The winning robot was the humanoid HRP-2 robot built by Schaft, a Japanese company that was bought by Google this year. The win was no surprise, as Schaft had released videos in advance of its robot completing all the tasks. Schaft scored an incredible 27 out of a possible 32 points.

The runner-up came from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a nonprofit research institute, which scored 20 points. Carnegie-Mellon's CHIMP robot, which is 400 pounds and bright red with a 10-foot wing span, came in third with 18 points.

Those three along with teams from MIT, NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs, Lockheed Martin, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Texas-based TRACLabs will go on to compete for $2 million in the final competition next year.

Check out some photos from the competition and the robotics expo.

Darpa Robotics Challenge Trials photo essay


Carnegie Mellon University's CHIMP (CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform) robot, which has many high-profile sponsors including Google, gets a tread changed.