PORTLAND, Ore. ó In the time-honored tradition of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, DARPA is upping the difficulty of its $2 million purse Robotics Challenge, extending the finals for six months (to June 15 through June 16, 2015 in the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.) in order to give the 24 teams time to adapt to the new tougher rules.
"The trials were much more successful than we had expected," said Gill Pratt, DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) program director in a conference call. Consequently, DARPA plans to significantly "raise the bar" by increasing the difficulty of the tasks and further degrading the harshness of the environment.
Six teams are using the Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics, which was loaned to them by DARPA.
First of all, no tethers will be allowed for power or communications, forcing the teams to build batteries or other fuel sources into their 300 pound robots. Secondly, the use of so-called "fall arrestors" will not be allowed. Robots will have to be rugged enough to withstand a fall without damage, plus will have to be able to get up again on their own. No human assistance will be allowed to help a fallen robot or one that gets stuck on a hazard. Time will become a more significant factor as well -- all tasks will have to be completed in one hour, rather than four hours, as was the case in the December 2013 trial runs. And lastly, the wireless communications channels will be intermittent and randomly degraded in bandwidth.
As a consequence, the final robot trial has been pushed back six months, with each funded team receiving $1.5 million instead of $1 million, to give them time to build-in power sources, wireless communications channels, write algorithms for getting up after a fall and convert from step-by-step remote control -- which depends on a reliable communications channel -- to short commands that depend on prewritten algorithms to execute. For instance, climbing stairs with damage will have to be drawn from a new library of autonomous functions where the robot avoids debris on the stairs using algorithms, rather than depend on the human operator to tell it exactly where to set down their feet.
Meet the robotic contestants in the DARPA Robotic Challenge (DRC). Click image below to start slideshow.
The Defense Advanced Project Agency (DARPA) Robotics
Challenge will allow only a single operator to send high-level
commands to the robot, but will degrade the wireless connection with
latency and intermittence. However, the operator will be able to
enlist helpers to "crowd source" helpful information from the
Internet. (Source: DARPA)
Other new functions are designed to make tasks easier to perform by allowing autonomy algorithms to be stored on the Internet and retrieved as needed by any number of people helping out the actual robot operator. Only one person can actually send commands to the robot, but he will have full access to the Internet and any number of helpers.
"There as been a new concept in robotic autonomy added, which has been known as crowd robotics, which is the idea that the robot is able to access remote information and remote computational resources, we believe the commercial world is going to develop this capability, but we are not going to replicate the work the commercial world is going to develop, but rather the opposite," said Pratt. "We are doing the work which we think the commercial sector is not going to do -- in particular problems that are unique to disaster response -- such as operating without the possibility of human intervention in case something goes wrong."