Back in 2011, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster happened, a ragtag team of robots was dispatched to make repairs. The idea was that these robots could work in places that were too irradiated for humans to enter — but unfortunately, they weren’t particularly well-suited for the job. Bots stumbled over minor obstacles, lost connections, and just generally failed at tasks that we humans would’ve had no trouble with.
A better solution was needed, so in an effort to move disaster relief tech forward, DARPA launched a robotics competition shortly thereafter. In order to win, teams must create a robot that can accomplish a variety of different tasks related to disaster relief, such as walking over rubble, opening doors, and driving vehicles.
To evaluate robots, DARPA actually set up a custom-built obstacle course in Pomona, California for teams to traverse. Trials rounds have been happening for the past few months, but now it’s down to the finals, and the competition is heating up.
During the trials, each bot had 30 minutes to complete a series of eight different tasks: drive a vehicle, exit the vehicle, open a door, enter a building, locate and close a valve, cut through a wall, remove rubble, climb stairs, and one surprise task. Now, all these tasks must be completed in an hour or less.
As if that isn’t difficult enough, competitors are also not allowed to be hooked up to safety tethers in the final round. If a robot falls, it now has to either pick itself up, or the team must take a 10 minute penalty and reset the bot manually. Basically, the training wheels have come off and it’s time to separate the robo-men from the robo-boys.
The final rounds kicked off earlier this morning, and with 24 teams vying for the $2 millon top prize, the competition is set to continue on into Saturday afternoon. And the best part? DARPA is live-streaming the main event on YouTube, and you can tune into the action (or lack thereof) happening on four different courses through the DRC website.