DARPA’s Robotics Challenge inspires high-tech wizardry

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

DARPA robotics
The Robotics Challenge is looking for robots that can effectively deal with multiple tasks in a disaster zone, so that they can one day save lives.

The USA’s military headquarters, the Pentagon, pushes major technological innovation with its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) division. Not only does DARPA create some incredibly sophisticated gadgetry themselves, they’ve also been hosting a mega Robotics Challenge that began in 2012 and will conclude in 2015.

This competition has invited the best of the best to design robots that can perform critical tasks in disaster zones, where it’s dangerous for human first responders. The competition’s final round will happen June 5-6 next year in Southern California, and the winner will take home a $2 million grand prize!

When the Robotics Challenge started in 2012, contestants had to demonstrate their robo technology in several rounds of virtual trials. This narrowed the field down to 17 robots, who then faced off in physical trials last December in Florida. The robots had to prove their ability to clear debris from a doorway, open doors, close valves, climb a ladder, connect a hose, cut through drywall with tools, and navigate a tough course filled with uneven terrain. Whoa!

The 2015 finals will be even more brutal, as teams will no longer be able to keep their robots connected to power cords, and humans can’t help the machines if they fall over during the trials. Then, to really make sure these robots can handle the tough environments that rescue workers often find themselves in, their communication systems will be made intentionally unreliable. This will imitate the real-life bad service that first responders experience when trying to communicate in a disaster zone.

Images courtesy of DARPA.