UAS & Robotics

South Korean team wins DARPA Robotics Challenge

A team from South Korea delivered the top performance at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Friday and Saturday, taking home the top prize of $2 million.

Team KAIST, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon and its robot, DRC-Hubo, finished first after performing the eight disaster-response tasks that made up the challenge, held at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. Team IHMC Robotics from the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, Pensacola, Fla., and its robot Running Man, took second, taking home $1 million. Tartan Rescue from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh and its robot, CHIMP, won $500,000 for third.

Each of the three winners scored eight points; Team KAIST’s time of 44 minutes, 28 seconds lead the others.

Here's a fast-motion video of DRC-Hubo’s winning run.

The multi-stage, 32-month challenge, which culminated with the finals June 5-6, was inspired by the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency set out to enlist teams of the best robotics scientists—and fund them, if the chose—to create robots capable of responding to emergencies when the situation is too dangerous to send in humans.

Through the challenge’s earlier stages, the teams showed so much improvement that DARPA kept upping the ante, making the tasks more difficult. Eventually, 25 teams from seven countries were announced for the challenge, though 23 teams took part.

The final event, which was open to the public, drew an appreciative crowd.

“These robots are big and made of lots of metal and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety,” DARPA program manager and DRC organizer Gill Pratt said in congratulating the teams. “But we heard groans of sympathy when those robots fell. And what did people do every time a robot scored a point? They cheered! It’s an extraordinary thing, and I think this is one of the biggest lessons from DRC—the potential for robots not only to perform technical tasks for us, but to help connect people to one another.”

About that falling down Pratt mentioned, there was a lot of it, which shows how hard this kind of thing is, even for the best roboticists. The challenge advanced the ball for robotics, but also showed how much still has to be done before we see anything like a Terminator.

Here’s a collection of falling robots posted by IEEE Spectrum:

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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