The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today kicked off its DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). The agency says:
The primary technical goal of the DRC is to develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. Competitors in the DRC are expected to focus on robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.
To achieve its goal, the DRC aims to advance the current state of the art in the enabling technologies of supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength, and platform endurance.
There's more at the link. Aviation Week's Ares military blog reports:
Aftershocks from the earthquake still shaking the broken ground, the robot grabs a monkey wrench from a wounded plumber, jumps into his Ford F150 truck, and drives over the smoking rubble to the collapsing building, where poisonous gas from a fractured pipe is preventing rescuers reaching survivors. Pushing through the scalding cloud and knocking down a teetering wall, the robot reaches the leaking pipe and locates the valve, shutting off the gas.
That's one scenario behind DARPA's ... DRC, which aims to demonstrate a robot that can help humans respond to disasters by going where they can't. Live challenges are planned for December 2013 and December 2014. Teams will have to demonstrate robots that, with supervised autonomy in a disaster scenario, can use tools and equipment available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles.
Again, more at the link.
The concept of a 'rescue robot' isn't new, but its practical implementation has always lagged behind the available technology. DRC intends to change that. To illustrate the current 'state of the art', here's a video clip of the so-called 'Pet-Proto' robot making its way through a simulated structure.
It's rather slow and halting at present, but when you consider that even a few years ago, such agility would have been utterly impossible for any robot, it's pretty impressive. (There are several other video clips of DARPA robot projects on the agency's YouTube channel.)
I'll be watching this competition with interest.