Robots have taken over the Pomona fairgrounds in southern California for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, an event dreamed up four years ago after the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster. The robots are built to have many abilities, meaning in a future emergency they could descend into areas too dangerous for any human to enter and clear rubble, turn off pipes or cut through walls.
The 24 teams in the competition have chosen to either build their robot from scratch, or focus on software and use the ATLAS robot body built by Google-owned Boston Dynamics.
The competition is built around eight challenges that mimic tasks a robot might encounter in a disaster mission. The bots drive and exit a car, open and enter a door, close a valve, cut through a wall, complete a surprise task, walk over rubble and climb a set of stairs.
It’s slow going — the robots carefully consider their surroundings before making each move.
Anytime a robot takes a particularly tricky step or crosses a finish line, a huge cheer goes up from the grandstands. An announcer reads out point tallies and adds color with facts about each team. It’s a bit like watching an Olympic track event — lots of waiting around, and then excitement all at once. It’s hard to tell if the spectators have favorites, as everyone is cheering for every robot all the time.
Plenty of special guests made an appearance, including Cheetah, a robot built by MIT. Cheetah can jump to avoid obstacles. It jogged down the road in front of the grandstand, and even took a little tumble when it showed off some tricks.
Kaist, the South Korean team behind the Hubo robot, finished the weekend in first place with the maximum-possible 8 points. IHMC and Tartan Rescue also won all 8 points, but didn’t complete the course as quickly. Team Kaist will take home a $2 million grand prize.