January 1, 2014 – Welcome to the New Year! What will 2014 bring in terms of technological and scientific achievements? Many wondrous and amazing things as can be attested by the innovations and discoveries of 2013 which I have described at this blog site.
Some unfinished business from last year….the results of the sixteen team competition, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials.
What did the robots have to do in this first round focused on eight tasks associated with disaster response? Note a second round is planned for the end of 2014 which will conclude with the winner claiming a $2 million first prize.
The first round, conducted at the Homestead Miami Speedway from December 20th to 21st, involved each robot attempting to do the following:
Task 1 – the robot was tasked with controlling a vehicle, operating the gear shift, accelerator, and brakes, and driving through an obstacle course to a finish line. The robot then was tasked with having to leave the vehicle and exit from the obstacle course unassisted.
Task 2 – the robot was asked to negotiate three different types of terrain including ramps, walls, steps and uneven shifting terrain to reach a finish line.
Task 3 – the robot had to climb a ladder.
Task 4 – the robot had to clear a debris field to get through a doorway.
Task 5 – the robot had to negotiate with a door doing three sub-tasks: push to enter a door, pull to enter a door, and enter a pull door with a weighted closer. All doors featured a lever-styled handle.
Task 6 – the robot was tasked with operating a cordless drill to cut through wallboard following a prescribed pattern. The robot was to then to remove the drywall segment that was cut. To operate the drill the robot had to grasp it, squeeze the trigger and then release it to stop.
Task 7 – the robot was challenged to close three valves controlling air flow in pipes – one a ball valve with handle requiring rotation of 90 degrees, another a mid-size rotary valve requiring one complete clockwise rotation, and the last a large rotary valve also requiring one complete clockwise rotation.
Task 8 – the robot was tasked with unreeling a hose and mating it to a connector by rotating the head to engage the threads and ensure a tight seal.
Watch the video of the winning robot, Schaft, recently acquired from its Japanese developer by Google as part of that company’s growing investment in robotics technology.
Bipedal, 148 centimeters (58 inches) in height, with a 130 centimeter (51 inch) arm span and weighing 95 kilograms (209 pounds), Schaft beat five others in completing all the tasks assigned. Competition included teams from MIT, Worcester Polytechnical, Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University.
DARPA describes the robots as equivalent in competence to a two-year-old child, capable of autonomously carrying out simple commands but still requiring human intervention to direct them.