UAS and Robotics
Robots to the rescue: Humanoid systems take up DARPA’s challenge
The current state of robotics will be put to a serious test this weekend as 17 robots and software teams take their autonomous unmanned systems to Florida for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Robotics Challenge.
They might look like Robocop or some kind of praying mantis, but they all have the same mission: assisting humans in man-made or natural disasters, particularly in going where humans dare not go. They need to be able to navigate indoors and outdoors, operate tools ranging from a sledge hammer to a screwdriver, and possibly even operate a fire truck that DARPA said might be at the scene.
The challenge, which takes place Dec. 20-21 at the Homestead Miami Speedway, was prompted by the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami had knocked out the backup power systems that cooled the reactors, DARPA said. Fuel in three of the reactors melted, resulting in explosions and the release of radiation.
One goal of the challenge is to see if robots could be capable of defusing such a situation, said Dr. Gill Pratt, DARPA's Robotics Challenge program manager.
"During the first 24 hours there, if only human beings had been able to go into the reactor buildings and vent built-up gas that was accumulating inside the reactors, the explosions that occurred might have been prevented and the disaster would not have been as severe," Pratt said.
That disaster established some of the tests the robots are to perform, such as knocking down a wall, opening a door, clearing debris, finding a leaking pipe and closing a valve and replacing a cooling pump. But, as DARPA notes, the eight tasks set for the test could apply in a wide variety of disasters, and the challenge will put equal emphasis on each of them.