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IHMC Competes In DARPA Robotics Challenge Semifinals

The semifinals of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Robotics Challenge will take place this weekend. The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and other teams are programming robots to operate in disaster situations.

“The premise of the competition is to be able to develop robots that are capable of operating effectively in environments that are dangerous for humans,” Doug Stephen said.  Stephen is a research associate at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. IHMC is competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, which began last October. Stephen says that most emergency response robots are not designed to work in environments that were built for humans, with features such as stairs, doors and narrow hallways.

Credit Katya Ivanov / WUWF Public media
WUWF Public media
Doug Stephen, Research Associate at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition

“This competition is to try and take research robotics, which focuses on less conventional constructions, maybe robots that look like humans and have legs, these devices that can handle these environments if they worked well, but they’re still living in labs. They don’t really go out into the real world yet,” Stephen said.  

All participating teams had to submit a proposal to receive funding. Teams competing in Track A build their own robots in addition to software. These include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Carnegie Mellon University and Virginia Tech. IHMC is participating in track B, which focuses on designing software and algorithms. Other Track B teams include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Hong Kong.

“Our first-level involvement, since we’re a Track B team, and we’re strictly software, was a virtual challenge,” Stephen said. “We competed in that, and by performing well, we were selected to not only receive more funding, but get awarded a government-furnished robot called Atlas.”

Credit Katya Ivanov / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Atlas at rest after completing a task

The next stage of the competition is the DARPA robotics challenge trials. IHMC will be competing against the Track A teams as well as the Track B teams The Atlas robot will need to complete eight tasks, which replicate disaster scenarios. These include climbing a ladder, removing debris and walking through a doorway and using a wireless drill to cut a triangle out of wall boards.

“We don’t program the robot to do one specific thing. We sort of program the robot in general, and then we keep a human operator in the loop, and we design the robot to be robust to a lot of different tasks and be able to handle them as they come up,” Stephen said.

The DARPA robotics challenge trials will take place on December 20 and 21 in Homestead, FL. More information about the competition is available at theroboticschallenge.org.

Katya Ivanov, WUWF News