Hizook – The new DARPA Grand Challenge is for a humanoid robot (with a bias toward bipedal designs) that can be used in rough terrain and for industrial disasters. The robot will be required to maneuver into and drive an open-frame vehicle (eg. tractor), proceed to a building and dismount, ingress through a locked door using a key, traverse a 100 meter rubble-strewn hallway, climb a ladder, locate a leaking pipe and seal it by closing off a nearby valve, and then replace a faulty pump to resume normal operations — all semi-autonomously with just “supervisory tele-operation.”
In 2004, the agency’s first $1 million Grand Challenge asked researchers to develop autonomous vehicles capable of traversing circuitous off-road mountain routes; no vehicle made it further than eight miles. A year later, with the prize money upped to $2 million, five different robo-cars completed the 132-mile course, with an SUV built by Stanford scientists taking the top prize. In 2007, Darpa’s next challenge doled out $2 million to a collaborative entry from Carnegie Mellon and Tartan Racing, when their autonomous car managed not only drive itself, but obey traffic signs and avoid other driving ‘bots.
With such successes, it’s no wonder that Darpa’s now opted to turn its attention to humanoid robots.
This new Grand Challenge is for a humanoid robot that can be used in rough terrain and industrial disasters. DAPRA will fund six hardware teams and twelve software teams. Although companies and organizations can bid on both hardware and software, they will, at most, only receive one award, either hardware or software, based on which of their proposals is stronger. There will also be opportunities for unpaid hardware and software competitors.
The BAA will heavily bias the robot morphology towards bipedal, although it’s not clear that a humanoid form factor will be an absolute requirement. DARPA is contracting separately with a vendor to produce a humanoid robot that will be government furnished equipment (GFE) for the software teams. The vendor of the GFE will not be allowed to compete in the Grand Challenge. The GFE will likely be tethered to a power supply.
The software teams are expected to be able to function on the other hardware platforms, although it is no t clear to what level that will be a requirement. At some point, although this was also not clear, software teams may choose to focus on one or more particular hardware options.
DARPA will separately fund the development of a simulation environment and a model of the GFE. Dr. Pratt’s hope is that this simulation environment will be sufficiently robust that it will become an industry standard. DARPA will supply 100 high-end workstations on a cloud for un-paid software teams to work on control of the GFE model in this environment. The unpaid software teams will compete against the 12 paid software teams. If some of the unpaid teams perform better than the paid teams, they will displace the paid teams and begin receiving funding.
DARPA will also invite unpaid hardware teams to participate. Dr. Pratt envisions that some foreign competitors may choose this option, due to restrict ions involved in accepting DoD funding. This Grand Challenge competition will have no ITAR restrictions and will be completely open to any participants. Unpaid hardware participants may also choose to provide subsystems to other paid and unpaid hardware competitors.
The specific tasks are:
1) The robot will maneuver to a open frame utility vehicle, such as a John Deere Gator or a Polaris Ranger. The robot is to get into the driver’s seat and drive it to a specified location.
2) The robot is to get out of the vehicle, maneuver to a locked door, unlock it with a key, open the door, and go inside.
3) The robot will traverse a 100 meter, rubble strewn hallway.
4) At the end of the hallway, the robot will climb an ladder.
5) The robot will locate a pipe that is leaking a yellow-colored gas (non-toxic, non-corrosive). The robot will then identify a valve that will seal the pipe and actuate that valve, sealing the pipe.
6) The robot will locate a broken pump and replace it.
The robot will be teleoperated, at least at the supervisory level. DARPA will control the communications bandwidth and latency, in order to make the task more difficult and force higher levels of autonomous behavior. If necessary, this control over communications will be used to discriminate performance levels between competitors and select a winner.
The Grand Challenge will be run twice, one year apart. Given the extreme difficulty of the challenge, it is very likely that no robot will be successful in the first year.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.