This weekend, Google-acquired Schaft bested 15 others teams competing in a robotics challenge sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), by remotely navigating a sophisticated bot through a series of rescue-themed tasks better than the rest.
Schaft far outpaced the others in each individual challenge. According to the robotics challenge website, the competition's goal is to incentivize the development of technology that could save lives in disaster scenarios:
Robots have the potential to be useful assistants in situations in which humans cannot safely operate, but despite the imaginings of science fiction, the actual robots of today are not yet robust enough to function in many disaster zones nor capable enough to perform the most basic tasks required to help mitigate a crisis situation. The goal of the DRC is to generate groundbreaking research and development in hardware and software that will enable future robots, in tandem with human counterparts, to perform the most hazardous activities in disaster zones, thus reducing casualties and saving lives.
Each robot was judged according to four metrics, including mobility and dexterity; ability to manipulate and use tools designed for humans; ability to be controlled by non-experts; and partial-autonomy making task-based decisions. This semi-final round focused primarily on mobility, dexterity and manipulation.
The event organizers cited the Fukushima nuclear meltdown as one specific incident where sophisticated robots could have made a difference, and contestants were judged on proficiency within 30 allotted minutes in eight tasks that would be useful in a similar disaster:
- Vehicle: The robot must drive through a designated course and dismount the vehicle upon completion.
- Terrain: The robot must traverse uneven ground.
- Ladder: The robot must climb an eight-foot ladder.
- Debris: The robot must remove several pieces of debris and travel through the cleared path.
- Door: The robot must move through push, pull and weighted push doors.
- Wall: The robot must cut and remove a triangular piece from a wall.
- Valve: The robot must close three separate valves.
- Hose: The robot must manipulate a hose nozzle.
Schaft's win is no surprise, as the team released the following video showing its robot completing the difficult tasks ahead of the competition.
Here some more images of the competitors.
The top eight scoring teams can now apply for funding from DARPA to compete for a prize in the finals, slated for 2014. NASA's robot didn't make the cut, sadly.