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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

DARPA hopes to advance robotics with new contest

April 26th, 2012 by Susan Smith

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s  new PETMAN robot expresses none of the fatigue of a human soldier, and whether he can leap buildings with a single bound is yet to be discovered. This innovation fof DARPA’s has sparked the new contest that aims to develop technology that advances robotics to the next level. The level at which robots can do what we do, go where we can’t, and change shape as necessary.

Although the emphasis placed on navigation will not be as great as previous DARPA competitions — the Grand Challenges of 2004 and 2005, the Urban Challenge of 2007, and the Network Challenge of 2009— the robotics competition charge  system designers with creating machines that can master a series of complex task scenarios or “events.” The challenge sponsors are looking for machines that can use hand and power tools, drive vehicles, climb ladders, close valves, replace broken parts, clear debris and move freely with dexterity, strength and endurance through a messy and confusing disaster site.

These autonomous or tethered robots will need to work with everyday humans: non-expert supervisors using wireless communication links that may be less than robust.

DARPA announced the contest on April 10, with a request for hardware, software, modeling and gaming developers to compete for a grand prize of US$2 million out of a prize pool of up to US$34 million.

The idea is to design the software and hardware for human surrogates in disaster zones that are unsafe or inaccessible. DARPA uses the example of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, still lethal after last year’s meltdowns, hydrogen explosions and radioactive materials release.

Proposals are due by May 31 2012. Prospective contestants will hear from DARPA right after their proposals are evaluated, which will take varying amounts of time depending on the type and complexity of the proposal.

The successful teams will be tested in three phases, beginning in October 2012 and ending around December 2014 with the announcement of the grand prize winner.

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