NASA has developed a robot it calls RoboSimian to enter a DARPA competition for robots that may one day be used to conduct rescue missions in emergencies or disasters. RoboSimian has been designed and constructed by NASA to operate in instances where rescue missions need to be conducted in environments too dangerous for humans, such as nuclear plants, and will compete with other candidates in the June 2015 competition.
RoboSimian was designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This branch of NASA is well known for many other robotic designs, including the Mars rovers.
RoboSimian walks on four legs and is designed to move like an ape. Its leg movements enable it to climb stairs and make its way over rubble. The RoboSimian can seat itself and, using wheels, move along with two legs extended that serve as arms with hands in that position. At the ends of the arms are finger-like extensions that can be used to grasp tools, pick up objects, open or close valves, or open doors. RoboSimian can lift material off injured disaster victims or clear rubble to enable a rescue.
RoboSimian has seven cameras and operates using software applied in other successful robots that allow it to work semi-autonomously. Human control can be applied through a laptop or other device.
Its movements are slow, but precise. This is explained by JPL below.
“This emphasis on stability over dynamics and deliberation over reaction will result in faster and more robust overall operations by decreasing missteps for both robot and human operator.”
When performing stationary jobs, RoboSimian can use its four legs and “fingers” to hold itself steady by grasping nearby anchor points like railings, pipes or ladders.
CNN reported on December 29 that RoboSimian will compete with over a dozen other candidates in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals that will be held in Pomona, California, on June 5-6. Robot entries of competitors in past DARPA contests have taken many forms, from multi-leg to upright bi-pedal robots. Competitors will be called on to navigate an obstacle course, clear or walk across rubble, operate a valve, use tools, cut a hole in a wall, climb stairs, and drive a utility vehicle. There will also be another task that will not be made known before the competition. Erratic communications, common under disaster conditions, will be simulated as well. The winning team will be awarded two million dollars.
The DARPA competition will provide valuable information to be used in future emergency human-robot interaction system design for both rescue and other applications. This would include material applications, hardware design, software development, environmental and position sensor development, motor and movement system architecture, and human-machine control interface design. NASA’s JPL is, no doubt, hopeful that RoboSimian will come out at the top of the final competition while contributing to rescue robot design.