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DARPA's Atlas Humanoid Robot Revealed

Jul 14, 2013 05:58 PM EDT
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Atlas Robot
An Atlas robot, designed by Boston Dynamics, Inc., was awarded to the winning teams.
(Photo : DARPA)

At six feet and 330 pounds, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Atlas is one of the most advanced humanoids ever made and is the system teams will use to compete in this year's DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC).

Like coaches presented with a new player, each of the teams have just six months to train their robot to perform a series of tasks representative of what might be required in a disaster-response scenario.

Fortunately, the groups are not starting with scratch: thanks to the physical modeling of the DRC Simulator, the software algorithms successfully employed by teams in the previously held Virtual Robotics Competition (VRC) should transfer relatively easily to the ATLAS hardware, according to DARPA officials.

Ultimately, despite its advanced nature, ATLAS is essentially a physical shell awaiting its software brains that, along with the actions of a human operator, will guide the suite of sensors, actuators, joints and limbs through a series of tasks.

In order to accomplish this, the winning teams from the VRC will receive funding from DARPA and ongoing technical support from Boston Dynamics, the developer of ATLAS.

"The Virtual Robotics Challenge was a proving ground for teams' ability to create software to control a robot in a hypothetical scenario," said Gill Pratt, program manager for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. "The DRC Simulator tasks were fairly accurate representations of real world causes and effects, but the experience wasn't quite the same as handling an actual, physical robot."

"Now these seven teams will see if their simulation-honed algorithms can run a real machine in real environments. And we expect all teams will be further refining their algorithms, using both simulation and experimentation."

In June, the DRC program management staff visited the teams in order to evaluate their platform design-and-build progress. During this process, the groups presented the details of their designs, hardware components, operator control strategies and, in some cases, completed robots.

Based on the results of that Critical Design Review, DARPA selected the following six teams to advance to the DRC Trials with continued DARPA funding (in alphabetical order by team lead):

  • Carnegie Mellon University, National Robotics Engineering Center - CHIMP

  • Drexel University - Hubo

  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - RoboSimian

  • NASA Johnson Space Center - Valkyrie

  • SCHAFT Inc.

  • Virginia Tech - T.H.O.R.

"We have dramatically raised the expectations for robotic capabilities with this Challenge, and brought together a diverse group of teams to compete," Pratt said. "The progress the Track A teams have made so far is incredible given the short timeline DARPA put in place. From here out, it's going to be a race to the DRC Trials in December, and success there just means the qualifying teams will have to keep on sprinting to the finish at the DRC Finals in 2014."

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