This weekend in Florida, six robots will compete in a challenge to determine which is the ultimate disaster-response machine.
The U.S. DARPA Robotics Challenge, running today and Saturday, is a response to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March, 2011. Those twin disasters also triggered a nuclear crisis due to a radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The organizers of the challenge noted that robots played a crucial role in mitigating the nuclear fallout in Japan by helping with radiation containment.
The competition’s stated goal is to generate “groundbreaking research and development in hardware and software” so that tomorrow’s human-guided robots will be able to do dangerous jobs in dangerous areas, “thus reducing casualties and saving lives.” (DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a research agency associated with the U.S. Department of Defense. Among its contributions is ARPANET, the pre-cursor to the modern internet.)
Rescue robots will be scored according to how effectively they perform these eight physical tasks, as outlined by LiveScience:
- Drive and exit a utility vehicle: Operators must direct the robots to drive the vehicle safely despite occasional communications disruptions.
- Walk across rough terrain: Robots must maintain their balance and identify safe routes.
- Remove debris from a doorway: Robots must demonstrate a wide range of motion, along with balance and strength, to clear a path forward.
- Open a series of doors: Robots must figure out how to align and move themselves as they open each door.
- Climb an industrial ladder: The robots must safely navigate an eight-foot ladder and maintain their balance as they climb.
- Cut through wall: Robots must apply rigid force to hold a tool yet demonstrate the flexibility to smoothly manipulate it.
- Carry and connect a fire hose: The robots must identify the standpipe, transport the fire hose to it, and then attach the hose to a standpipe and open the spigot.
- Locate and close leaking valves: Robots must identify the valves, determine which ones are open, and have sufficient range of motion to turn the valve wheels and close them.
Seventeen robotics teams from around the world qualified for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, but only the top six will be competing in today’s and Saturday’s physical trials. Click through the gallery above to check out those six bots.