It looks like the United States government is getting back into the human robotics game big time. This time we have DARPA coming out with a new Grand Challenge for robots. The challenge consists of several parts and the winning robot has to do repairs, drive a cart, and traverse tough terrain. The eventual goal is to be able to use robots for tasks that are too dangerous for humans such as a nuclear disaster or a fire.
During the exercise the robot will maneuver to a open frame utility vehicle, such as a John Deere Gator or a Polaris Ranger. Then the robot is to get into the driver's seat and drive it to a specified location. The robot is to get out of the vehicle, maneuver to a locked door, unlock it with a key, open the door, and go inside. Then the robot will traverse a 100 meter, rubble strewn hallway. At the end of the hallway, the robot will climb an ladder. Then the robot will locate a pipe that is leaking a yellow-colored gas (non-toxic, non-corrosive). The robot will then identify a valve that will seal the pipe and actuate that valve, sealing the pipe, and the robot will locate a broken pump and replace it.
The contest will take place twice over a year apart. DARPA doesn't think any robot will be able to complete the challenge the first time, hence the second competition date. My money is on a variation of this creepy human robot named PETMAN:
One step closer to Skynet taking over.
Here is a semi-transcript of the announcement by Dr. Gill Pratt who gave a synopses of the announcement that was made at the DTRA's Industry Day:
This new Grand Challenge is for a humanoid robot that can be used in rough terrain and industrial disasters. DAPRA will fund six hardware teams and twelve software teams. Although companies and organizations can bid on both hardware and software, they will, at most, only receive one award, either hardware or software, based on which of their proposals is stronger. There will also be opportunities for unpaid hardware and software competitors.
The BAA will heavily bias the robot morphology towards bipedal, although it's not clear that a humanoid form factor will be an absolute requirement. DARPA is contracting separately with a vendor to produce a humanoid robot that will be government furnished equipment (GFE) for the software teams. The vendor of the GFE will not be allowed to compete in the Grand Challenge. The GFE will likely be tethered to a power supply.
The software teams are expected to be able to function on the other hardware platforms, although it is no t clear to what level that will be a requirement. At some point, although this was also not clear, software teams may choose to focus on one or more particular hardware options.
DARPA will separately fund the development of a simulation environment and a model of the GFE. Dr. Pratt's hope is that this simulation environment will be sufficiently robust that it will become an industry standard. DARPA will supply 100 high-end workstations on a cloud for un-paid software teams to work on control of the GFE model in this environment. The unpaid software teams will compete against the 12 paid software teams. If some of the unpaid teams perform better than the paid teams, they will displace the paid teams and begin receiving funding.
DARPA will also invite unpaid hardware teams to participate. Dr. Pratt envisions that some foreign competitors may choose this option, due to restrict ions involved in accepting DoD funding. This Grand Challenge competition will have no ITAR restrictions and will be completely open to any participants. Unpaid hardware participants may also choose to provide subsystems to other paid and unpaid hardware competitors.
The specific tasks are:
1) The robot will maneuver to a open frame utility vehicle, such as a John Deere Gator or a Polaris Ranger. The robot is to get into the driver's seat and drive it to a specified location.
2) The robot is to get out of the vehicle, maneuver to a locked door, unlock it with a key, open the door, and go inside.
3) The robot will traverse a 100 meter, rubble strewn hallway.
4) At the end of the hallway, the robot will climb an ladder.
5) The robot will locate a pipe that is leaking a yellow-colored gas (non-toxic, non-corrosive). The robot will then identify a valve that will seal the pipe and actuate that valve, sealing the pipe.
6) The robot will locate a broken pump and replace it.
The robot will be teleoperated, at least at the supervisory level. DARPA will control the communications bandwidth and latency, in order to make the task more difficult and force higher levels of autonomous behavior. If necessary, this control over communications will be used to discriminate performance levels between competitors and select a winner.
The Grand Challenge will be run twice, one year apart. Given the extreme difficulty of the challenge, it is very likely that no robot will be successful in the first year.
DARPA will provide the paid teams with sufficient funds to do the work. Raising outside money or large contributions of IR&D should not be necessary.
The goal of this Grand Challenge is to create a humanoid robot that can operate in an environment built for people and use tools made for people. The specific challenge is built around an industrial disaster response.