The US Pentagon has begun a contest to advance its efforts to develop robotic soldiers to fight the wars of the future.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), which kicked off at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conference center in Arlington, Virginia on Wednesday, focuses on testing robots’ abilities to work in difficult situations designed for humans that “simulate conditions in a dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environment.”
US officials and the designers of the robots say they are only being built to provide emergency services during disasters and have made no comments on any possible military applications.
The DRC has four tracks, with teams participating in tracks B and C competing for access to a modified version of the Atlas robot for use in live disaster-response challenge events in 2013 and 2014.
One of the robots, called Pet-Proto, a predecessor of DARPA’s Atlas robot, can maneuver over and around obstacles, using “capabilities, including autonomous decision-making, dismounted mobility and dexterity.”
DARPA project leader Gill Pratt says the DRC is “about trying to use robots to improve the resiliency of the US and world to natural and man-made disasters.”
According to DARPA’s $2.8 billion budget for 2013, the US military’s research arm intends to invest $7 million in a project to create robotic partners for its soldiers.
The project, called the Avatar Project, was devised to “develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the solder’s surrogate,” DARPA announced.
Earlier this year, DARPA released a video of the robodog, which is capable of hauling a soldier’s gear and following the soldier using its “eyes” — which are actually sensors that can distinguish between trees, rocks, terrain obstacles, and people.