In the early stages of a number of recent disasters, it was clear that there were limitations to what humans could accomplish due to dangerous situations (e.g., Fukushima). Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) is one of the primary missions of the Department of Defense, and in order to be prepared for future disasters, DARPA’s goal is to spur the development of an adaptable robot that can remove humans from dangerous areas to allow issues to be mitigated from a safe location.
Focusing on a problem of social significance brings the international robotics community and their expertise together to catalyze the industry.
Existing robot systems tend to have highly specialized and limited functionality, possess limited autonomy in perception and decision-making, demonstrate limited mobility, dexterity, strength and endurance, and are used primarily in lab settings.
The DARPA Robotic Challenge will focus on developing robots that can operate in rough terrain and austere conditions, using aids (vehicles and hand tools) commonly available in populated areas. Specifically, we want to prove that the following capabilities can be accomplished:
- Compatibility with environments engineered for humans (even if they are degraded)
- Ability to use a diverse assortment of tools engineered for humans (from screwdrivers to vehicles)
- Ability to be supervised by humans who have had little to no robotics training.
Supervised autonomy is critical, as it allows simple tasks to be performed by the robot without full-time operator intervention. This will be especially important in unreliable communications environments.
Success in the DRC would mark a significant leap forward for the field of robotics. The entire robotics industry would be strengthened by raising the bar for robotic hardware, software and sensors. Additional benefits include:
- Increasing the speed of advancements in robotics
- Growing international cooperation in the field of robotics
- Attracting new innovators to the field
DRC Simulator: To facilitate robot software development, DARPA is developing an open source simulation tool: the DRC Simulator. The Simulator will be populated with models of robots, robot components, and field environments and will be made available to organizations skilled in robotic software development. This simulator will help to expand the supplier base for ground robot systems (both hardware and software), increase capabilities, and in the future will help lower acquisition costs.
Atlas: The most successful teams (Track B and C) in the Virtual Robotics Challenge will be given a humanoid robot called Atlas. Atlas is one of many robots being developed to complete the physical tasks planned for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials and Finals events, and requires software expertise to program the robot to accomplish the objectives.
Based on our experience in past Grand Challenges spurring important technology advances, as well as our knowledge that the required tasks are quite difficult, we have planned a sequence of three increasingly demanding events for 2013 and 2014. We do not expect immediate success, but anticipate that teams will refine their approaches over the course of the DRC to achieve success by the DRC Finals.
VIRTUAL ROBOTICS CHALLENGE , June 2013: It is important that an effective operator control architecture be implemented, and that teams demonstrate competence in addressing the areas of robot perception, manipulation, and locomotion. To stress these skills, the virtual challenge event will test teams’ abilities to control a simulation of a humanoid robot to accomplish a set of physical challenges. Teams will be evaluated based on their ability to complete all tasks, and winners will be given both a dedicated Atlas robot and continued funding to support participation in the next challenge.
DARPA ROBOTICS CHALLENGE TRIALS, December 2013: Teams with both the Atlas and custom robotic platforms will participate in the first physical competition, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials. At the Trials, robots will perform an array of individual disaster response operations. High-performing teams will be provided with continued funding to support participation in the final Challenge event in December 2014.
DARPA ROBOTICS CHALLENGE FINALS, December 2014: DARPA will host the final Challenge event, an end-to-end disaster-style scenario, in which teams will compete for $2,000,000 USD. Details of the final competition will be unveiled at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials.