Thursday, December 19, 2013


In this corner at six feet two inches with a 80” wingspan, the competitor Valkyrie entered by NASA stands ready and willing to accept the challenge.

17 robots enter, but only several will demonstrate the necessary skills to garner an invitation to the DRC finals in 2014.

Although Valkyrie, NASA’s entry, is a hopeful for Mars exploration and other uses, this particular challenge aims to display abilities that the pentagon is seeking in a robot, the ability to respond alongside humans to a natural or other disaster. This was triggered by Japan’s recent natural disasters that then lead to a nuclear disaster.

The qualities DARPA will be reviewing? Not speed, not flying, nor shooting fire from their eye’s, but perception, autonomous decision making, mobility, dexterity,  and strength.

With entries from MIT, NASA, Boston Dynamics and 14 others, the competition field will be narrowed down to eight that have the chance to return for the final challenge-the DRC Finals next year. Finals that will result in a $2 million dollar prize.

So what will they be tested on? The course is based on expectations of what will be encountered in a disaster zone. The course will run over a two day period and Robots will be given a half hour to perform eight tasks.

Those tasks are:

1)      Considered the hardest task and probably will involve the most robot-human interaction is thedriving of the vehicle safely even though there will be occasional communications disruptions. Also, exiting the vehicle involves a certain amount of strength and dexterity. 


2)     An obvious need in a disaster situation would be walking across rough terrain. In this particular challenge the robot must not only keep their balance but identify safe routes for walking without damaging limbs.


3)     Involving many different motions and encompassing strength and balance, the robot must clear debris from a doorway and move forward.


4)     This challenge while seemingly simple involves dexterity and perception; it is opening a series of doors.


5)     Strength is needed to overcome a fall in this task, climbing an industrial ladder.


6)     Using power tools will show the robots dexterity, strength, and the ability to perceive their environment. This task is cutting through a wall.


7)     Fires could present themselves in a disaster and so the robot must carry and connect a fire hose. They also must open the spigot. This may seem simple, but even for a human, it is a challenge.


8)    The eighth and final challenge is the identification of leaking valves and then the dexterity and range of motion not to mention controlled strength to close the leaking valves.


This challenge understand that the robots are young, but performing well displays not only their current abilities, but what next year’s expectations can & should be. It is likely that next year’s challenges will be real-life disaster scenarios.

The event is ongoing through the 21st at the Home Stead Speedway in Florida. If you are not down in Florida and can’t get there, check and check out NASA tv for coverage.

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