DARPA Robotics Challenge promises advances in robot autonomy

By Skyler Frink
In December 2014, robots will be tested in a disaster scenario to see if they can accomplish complicated tasks such as driving utility vehicles, removing debris blocking entryways, climbing ladders and traversing industrial walkways, and using power tools.

The Robosimian
All of this will be part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DPC). The challenge aims to develop ground robots that can perform complex tasks and use available human tools, such as vehicles. The goal is to advance the robotic technologies of supervised autonomy, dismounted mobility, dexterity, and platform endurance. By using supervised autonomy, the robots developed will be able to be controlled by non-expert operators and enable effective operation despite low fidelity communications.

The program also hopes to reduce cost by expanding the supplier base for these systems and their software.

What makes this program special is what these robots can do, they are meant as human stand-ins for situations where humans can't perform certain tasks. Because of this, the robots tend to look an awful lot like people, though there are some that are bizarre looking, such as the Robosimian, a design which has been proposed by the NASA-Jet Propulsion Lab. It looks like a four legged spider with robotic hands on each foot.

These machines are meant to use human tools, which has several obvious defense applications. They can operate weapons, navigate obstacles (for a preview, look at the Atlas Robot video below), and do just about anything a human can do physically. These are meant for much more than warfighting, however, and will be used for disaster relief and other dangerous non-combat situations.

It will be exciting to see what sort of advanced technology comes out of this competition. Whether the robot that wins is humanoid or something completely different, this competition stands to change the face of robotics.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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