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Japanese robot crushes rivals at DARPA challenge

Researchers advance state of the art in humanoid robot competition

December 22, 2013 07:30 AM ET

Computerworld - HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- A Japanese team dominated its 15 competitors at DARPA's Robotics Challenge in Florida this weekend.

Team Schaft, a Japanese team that built its own two-legged, humanoid robot and the software to run it, garnered 27 points out of a possible 32 at the competition that pitted teams from sich institutions as MIT, NASA, Carnegie Mellon University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute against each other. The competition tested the robots' ability to accomplish eight tasks, including climbing a ladder, driving a car and scrambling over difficult terrain.

The robotics event was sponsored by DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Team Schaft's performance was highlighted by the fact that three of the teams didn't score a single point, including one of the two NASA teams in the contest.

Gill Pratt, a DARPA program manager, said he's not surprised that Team Schaft did so well.

"They started very, very intense efforts immediately after being selected," Pratt told Computerworld. "They had begun and been much more serious about their efforts sooner than anyone else we saw. That's showing this weekend. They did their homework."

IHMC Robotics, a team from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, came in second place with 20 points. Rounding out the top five were Tartan Rescue, a team from Carnegie-Mellon University, and the National Robotics Engineering Center, which both had 18 points; the MIT team with 16 points, and RoboSimian, created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with 14.

Texas-based TracLabs Inc. came in sixth with 11 points. A team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute also had 11 points but came in seventh place because team handlers needed to assist their robot more than the rivals at TracLabs.

Trooper, a team from Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories, was eighth with nine points.

Sixteen teams competed in the eight tasks in what was the second part of a three-phase competition. The top eight teams are eligible to move on to the next, and last, phase of the challenge. Those top eight teams will eligible to participate in contract negotiations with the U.S. government and are eligible to receive up to $1 million in research funding.

The third and final round will be held late in 2014.

The challenge, which was held Friday and Saturday at the Homestead Miami Speedway in southern Florida, focused on research being done to create robots that one day can help in disaster relief operations.

The teams were given points based on their robots' ability to partially or fully complete the tasks with the least amount of human interaction and in the fastest time. The robots were given 30 minutes to complete each task.

At the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge in Homestead, Fla., officials discuss the difficulties of building humanoid robots and what the future holds for rescue-based robots.


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