Virginia Tech is developing THOR, a Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot, which will be state-of-the-art, light, agile and resilient with perception, planning and human interface technology that infers a human operator’s intent, allowing seamless, intuitive control across the autonomy spectrum. The team will emphasize three essential themes in developing THOR: hardware resilience, robust autonomy and intuitive operation.
RoMeLa at Virginia Tech has a history of developing successful award-wining humanoid robotic platforms including CHARLI (Cognitive Humanoid Robot with Learning Intelligence,) DARwIn (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence,) SAFFiR (Shipboard Autonomous Fire Fighting Robot) to name a few. RoMeLa’s years of experience and expertise in humanoid robot platform development, mechanical design, system integration brings a new and exciting humanoid platform THOR for the DRC. RoMeLa is in charge of the THOR platform development which uses series elastic actuators for the lower body with impedance control.
University of Pennsylvania’s expertise of autonomous behaviors and perception is brought in for the robots for the DRC. University of Pennsylvania has been closely working with RoMeLa for various large-scale research projects and robotics competitions such as RoboCup with great success. University of Pennsylvania received a copy of the THOR-OP platform early on, and has been developing and testing their algorithms on the THOR-OP platform, which will be integrated into the THOR platform in early 2014.
This project has leveraged Harris’ experience with intuitive human-machine interface (HMI) development and advanced manipulation systems. Harris was responsible for developing all the hardware and software for the HMI as well as the manipulation software on the robot. The HMI includes a Harris RedHawk™ operator control unit - a rugged haptic (force-feedback) interface for intuitive teleoperation – as well as immersive multi-modal data display. The robot arms are controlled by Harris’ Unified Manipulation Controller, which enables dynamic manipulation with guaranteed collision avoidance over a high latency/low bandwidth communication link.
Robotis provides early access of their new smart actuator servo products to the team which is used for the upper body of THOR. Robotis is also developing the THOR-OP platform as a research platform and as a backup platform for THOR. THOR-OP has been a great platform for University of Pennsylvania and Harris to use for the development and testing until THOR becomes on-line. And as a backup platform robot to THOR, THOR-OP is planned to be used for the 2013 Trials as THOR is not competition ready yet. THOR will be at the 2013 Trials as a preview of what is to come in DRC 2014 from Team THOR.
Developing a Robot for DRC:
The tale of two robots
We are developing two humanoid robot platforms for the DRC. One is “THOR,” a humanoid robot using cutting-edge technology (custom series elastic actuators with impedance control, and momentum control for walking). The other is “THOR-OP,” a more ‘traditional’ humanoid robot that utilizes position-controlled servos for actuation and ZMP based walking algorithms.
As the THOR platform is a significant departure from the traditional humanoid robot architecture, it is considered a high-risk, high-payoff platform. If successful, we believe this will be a game changing technology that will enable humanoid robots to be used in real-life situation. However, since it is an unproven technology with high risk, and since it will take time to perfect it for the competition, we have also developed THOR-OP as a backup platform and as a research platform that will become available early on in the project. THOR-OP has been used successfully by University of Pennsylvania and Harris for their research and development of algorithms for THOR. And as THOR will not be competition ready by the December trials this year, THOR-OP will be used as a backup platform. All work will be integrated into the THOR platform early 2014 and THOR is planned to be used for the final DRC competition in 2014.
Our mission – to save the world
“We truly believe that this is why we do robotics -- developing technology that will save the world. Though it is a competition with big cash prizes at stake, winning is not the most important thing. Whether we win or lose, if the technology we develop through this project can save even just one person’s life in the future, then everything is worth it.” –Dennis Hong
Involvement in Prior DARPA Challenges:
Yes, both Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania have both competed in the DARPA Urban Challenge and have students on the project who have competed in both the Urban and Grand Challenges. In 2007, Virginia Tech won 3rd DARPA Urban Challenge. Place and University of Pennsylvania won 5th place at the DARPA Urban Challenge.