by Damon Poeter
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) multi-year Robotics Challenge is just getting started, but the agency is already teasing some pretty cool robotic prototypes that showcase how a winning entry might go about accomplishing the multiple human-like physical tasks demanded by the contest.
The agency on Thursday posted video (below) of one such prototype built in partnership with Boston Dynamics—the multi-tasking PETMAN robot, which can climb stairs and do pushups. DARPA said a modified version of the humanoid robot “is expected to be used as government-funded equipment (GFE) for performers in Tracks B and C of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.”
The goal of the contest is to produce a robot capable of assisting humans in dangerous or degraded environments, using unmodified tools designed for humans, the agency said in an announcement earlier this week. Teams are being asked to design robots capable of driving a vehicle, using power tools to bash through walls, and even replace a cooling pump, for a $2 million grand prize. Up to $34 million in total will be available in contracts and funding for challenge participants, DARPA said.
The two phases of the competition, which must be attempted by a single robot capable of multiple physical activities, are a virtual disaster challenge followed by an actual disaster challenge, the latter of which determines the final winner.
Some of the things the winning robot will have to do include driving a vehicle, traveling across rubble, removing debris, climbing a ladder, and replacing a component like the aforementioned water pump. Though the beginning-stage GFE Platform in the DARPA video has a humanoid appearance and the final version of the platform is expected to have two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head, the challenge is also open to non-humanoid robots, the agency said.
DARPA has in recent months released several videos on its YouTube channel showcasing robots of all sizes and shapes performing various tasks. Some, like a Nano Air Vehicle clearly wouldn’t be the right fit, but models like the treadmill speedster, dubbed the DARPA Cheetah, do give a hint of elements and functionality that could well be used by a robot in the actual competition.