Written by Jonny Williamson
DARPA, a branch of the US Department of Defense, is hoping to find the next state-of-the-art robotic solution to aid emergency workers in the wake of real-world man-made and natural disasters. The challenge, to launch this October, is open to anyone (not just US citizens), from universities and manufacturers to engineers and individuals, and DARPA is hoping to actively encourage those without a background in robotics to take part in order to bring a fresh perspective to the problem.
Robots have already become commonplace in the world today, performing complicated and repetitive tasks in fields such as manufacturing, healthcare and defence, as well as emergency response robots aiding to diffuse improvised explosive devices.
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Commenting on the challenge, DARPA Program Manager, Gill Pratt, said:
“The work of the global robotics community bought us to this point – robots do save lives, do increase efficiencies, and do lead us to consider new capabilities. This challenge is going to test supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength and endurance in an environment designed for human use but degraded due to disaster.”
Competing robots will need to demonstrate these skills by successfully performing tasks such as driving a utility vehicle, travelling dismounted across rubble, removing debris from an entranceway, open and move through a door, climbing a ladder, traversing a walkway, use a tool to break through concrete, closing a lever near a leaking pipe and replacing a component (such as a cooling pump).
“Adaptability is also essential because we don’t know where the next disaster will strike. The key to successfully completing this challenge requites adaptable robots with the ability to use available human tools, from hand-tools to vehicles.”
Though there are no hard and fast rules for the design of the robot, DARPA suggest being humanoid in form will no doubt help the successful completion of many of the required tasks, as well as being operated via an easy to use command system. The challenge will be split into two parts, with a focus on robotics hardware and software respectively.
More information on the challenge, including a pack containing criteria, funding, contacts and proposal submissions, can be found at: