Google’s Schaft Robot Takes Top Spot At DARPA Robotics Challenge

HRP-2 The Humanoid Robot "Promet"
HRP-2 The Humanoid Robot “Promet”

Leave it to DARPA to turn disaster relief into a competitive sport for robots, and for Google to walk away with the prize. In 2013, 16 robotics teams from around the world competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials, as part of DARPA’s project for developing robots capable of autonomously navigating disaster areas and doing useful work using tools and materials at hand. The two-day event was streamed live from Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway. Google’s Schaft humanoid robot scored 27 points and won first place as it navigated an obstacle course which was made to simulate a disaster area, while carrying out a series of tasks.

Built by a Japanese start-up recently purchased by Google, Schaft isn’t what you would call photogenic. It stands 1.48 m (4.8 ft) tall, weighs in at 95 kg (209 lb) in its socks (if it wore socks), and looks like a partly disassembled air conditioner that’s grown arms and legs. However, what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in performance. According to Schaft, Inc, it’s based on the HRP-2 robot with hardware and software modifications, including more powerful actuator systems, a walking/stabilization system, and a capacitor that takes the place of a battery.

When the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) was announced in April of 2013, over 100 teams applied to compete. After a series of reviews and virtual challenges, the field was narrowed down to 16 competing in four “tracks”. Track A included teams that qualified for funding to develop hardware and software, Track B were funded to develop software and were supplied with a Boston Dynamics Atlas robot for the competition, track C were free agents who were later given software funding and an Atlas robot, and Track D were competitors who didn’t get any funding.

It wasn’t hard to figure out which teams belonged to which tracks. Track A, which Schaft belonged to, is notable for a pretty diverse collection of robots. For example, there’s RoboSimian built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). As the name implies, this prototype space explorer is supposed to be a sort of robot ape, though it looks more like the result of the mating of a robot crab and a robot octopus.

Another primatoid robot is Tartan Rescue’s CHIMP and it does resemble a chimp – assuming that chimps are bright red, lack heads, and have have rollers on their elbows for negotiating rough terrain. At the other end of the spectrum is the Johnson Space Center’s Valkyrie, which looks like an anime character complete with a Tony Stark-esque chest light and what appear to be breasts, though the builders claim that it’s just a bulge to make room in the torso for linear actuators to move the waist.

The B and C track teams are often difficult to tell apart because they all use Atlas robots. If it wasn’t for the cooling fan in the torso, it would have been nice if some money had been set aside for robotic T-shirts to keep them straight.

Finally, there are the D track teams, Chiron, which looks like a metallic sea louse; Mojovation, which is distinctly minimalist; South Korea’s Kaist, and China’s Intelligent Pioneer.

Article Source: Science & Technology World

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(Image Credit – Bing Images )

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