A team of South Korean students has won the prestigious DARPA Robotics Challenge. Their humanoid robot competed against several others, designed to assist during natural calamities and other disasters like a nuclear power-plant meltdown.
This year’s contest asked the contestants to build robots that could independently cover an obstacle course which was designed to stimulate urban disasters like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. Team Kaist entered their humanoid robot, named DRC-Hubo, and it defeated 22 others to win the top prize of $2 million sponsored by the U.S Department of Defense’s DARPA research unit.
All the robots had one hour to navigate the route laid out by research scientists in association with disaster management personnel. These robots had to execute such complex tasks as drive and exit a car, and walk up and down steps while maintaining balance. Though it was preferred that the robots should complete the tasks autonomously, operators were allowed connectivity intermittently.
The use of robots has escalated significantly in the last decade. From venturing into nuclear fallout regions to exploring unfathomable depths, these robots have been where very few men have dared to set foot. However, robots need to cut the tether and be able to navigate on their own. These mechanical beings are being designed to intelligently think about tasks and obstacles and come up with solutions with little to no human assistance.
Evaluators of the challenge were looking for robots that displayed the ability to recover from a setback like falling or stumbling without their operators’ help. The robots even had to perform some complex tasks as drilling a hole, turning a valve, and crossing rubble either by clearing a path or moving over it.
DRC-Hubo was able to complete the course in 44 minutes and 28 seconds. Team IHMC Robotics came second, winning $1 million, and Tartan Rescue’s unusually dexterous Chimp robot was third, winning $500,000. To keep the contest interesting, designers of the course had included two mystery tasks as well. On day one, these robots had to pull a lever and on the second day, they had to pull out a plug and then insert it in another socket.
Though there were 25 teams, Japan’s team Hydra had to drop out at the 11th hour due to an irrecoverable setback. A Chinese team, too, didn’t participate, reportedly because they couldn’t get their visas in time.
DARPA has been making some significant strides in robotics. Its creations are literally doing the heavy lifting for soldiers. These creations, on the other hand, would bravely set foot where humans cannot venture and offer assistance.
[Image Credit: Getty Images / Team Kaist]