Singapore looking for a few good robots

Singapore is offering a hefty prize to build a robot capable of urban warfare, launching the second high-profile robotics competition to direct its attention to war-torn streets.

Singapore has launched a competition to build a robot capable of urban warfare, inthe second high-profile roboticscontest to direct its attention to war-torn streets.

The TechX Challenge, announced Tuesday bySingapore's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), follows in the track-marks of the Urban Challenge robot race to be held later this year, sponsored by the U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Singapore's Defence Ministry hopes the contest will provide an alternative weapon that could be used by the Singapore Armed Forces.

"Developing such a class of robots is technically demanding. You cannot buy such a robot off the shelf today," DSTA chief Richard Lim told the Singapore-based English-language newspaper the Straits Times.

The winning robot must be able to navigate within a building, operate an elevator, overcome obstacles, negotiate stairs and complete a set of tasks.

And unlike robots used in tasks such as bomb disposal, Lim said the contest-winning robots must be autonomous.

Robots will be submitted for testing in a qualifying round in May 2008, with a final competition in August. The contest winner will receive about $764,000 Cdn.

City streets have increasingly become the setting for U.S. military operations, particularly in Iraq.

In the U.S., DARPA recently shifted its Grand Challenge race for autonomous robots from a 217-km desert course to a 96-km urban course.

The new Urban Challenge is designed "with the goal of developing technology that will keep warfighters off the battlefield and out of harm's way," according to the organization's website.

Qualification for the competition will be held in October 2007, with 89 robots competing.

But DARPA's race-going robots have so far had limited success in the competition. None of the robots completed theinaugural race held in 2004.The following year onlyfour autonomous robots completed therace. No race was held in 2006 to give designers time to develop their urban machines.