Google introduces Terminator-style robots at DARPA Robotic Challenge Trials

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 7 years ago

The folks at Google have a lot to cheer since their newly acquired company, Schaft, Inc. of Japan, won the robotics challenge trials sponsored by the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The trials were held this weekend at Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway.

Sixteen teams with robots competed for a place in next year’s final, when DARPA will award a $2 million grand prize to the winner. The robots were designed to complete eight challenging tasks–the kind that would be required as part of response efforts to natural or man-made disasters, such as walking over uneven terrain, clearing away debris, and climbing a ladder.

The winning Schaft robot, a 209-pound humanoid just under five feet tall, scored 27 out of a possible 32 points, beating Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot by seven points. Carnegie Mellon University’s CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform (CHIMP) came in third with 18 points. The top eight performers will get a chance to compete in the 2014 finals.

Adam Jacoff, a robotics research engineer with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, told Live Science that the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials is “one of the biggest robotics evaluations on Earth and dwarf many military robot tests, both in scale of ambition and the actual effort involved.”

In a recent interview with Live Science, DARPA director Arati Prabhakar shared his impressions of the Challenge, saying one thing that impressed him was how difficult it is to program robots to do what to us are simple tasks.

“We were watching the ladder task,” Prabhakar said, “and I think for the five or seven minutes that I was standing there watching, what we were watching was a robot contemplating the ladder, trying to figure it out so it could start walking up this thing. It just makes you realize how the things we take for granted are so complex when you have to program something to do it.”

While this weekend’s Challenge focused on disaster-response robots, Prabhakar said robotic technologies are important to national security.

“We have always been part of the Defense Department, and our core mission is breakthrough technologies for national security,” Prabhakar explained, adding, “In the military context, our warfighters have to do incredibly dangerous tasks as a core part of their missions. As robotics technology advances and we can harvest it to help alleviate those challenges for our warfighters, that’s absolutely something we will be looking to do.”