After years of work, the highly anticipated DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals are here. Some of the world's most advanced robots are duking it out for the chance at the first place prize: $2 million. But before any of the teams can collect that prize, the robots will need to navigate an obstacle course designed to replicate an emergency or disaster rescue mission. That means walking over debris, driving vehicles, climbing stairs, cutting through walls, opening doors, closing valves, and more. Oh, and did I forget? Falling down. Lots and lots of falling down.
Standing up is hard to do
Despite the big names and institutions behind these truly impressive machines, standing upright can still be a challenge. Back at the trials, robots were tethered to protect them from falling. But the finals up the ante. The tethers are gone, and teams must communicate wirelessly with their robots, without line of sight. Thankfully, it's not all over if a robot goes down. If a robot can get back up on its own, it's good to go. If not, the team is allowed to come out and stand it back up, though they must take a 10-minute time penalty for doing so.
When one of these big boys inevitably goes down, you can't help but laugh and feel a few pangs of sadness at the same time. Since many of the robots are humanoid, we can't help but feel for them. As DARPA program manager Gill Pratt said this week, "It’s amazing how we anthropomorphize these things ... It’s a pile of aluminum and copper wire and software. I don’t cheer for my laptop. But people cheer for these [robots]. And of course when it falls, we all feel terrible, ‘Uh, it got hurt.’"
The finals are happening live right now in Pomona, California, and plan to wrap up this evening at 5PM PT. You can watch live below.