PORTLAND, Ore.—The future of search-and-rescue robots will be charted over the next two years by a new “grand challenge” set to the most advanced robotics researchers in industry and academia.
Eighteen teams from around the world will compete to design the most autonomous search and rescue robot for assisting humans during natural disasters in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge.
Next week the newly chosen teams will prove out their paper designs in a virtual arena that mimics the real-world arena in which the robots will compete later in 2013, with the final contest—including a $2 million purse—slated for 2014.
DARPA cites the Fukishima Dai-ichi nuclear meltdown in Japan as its motivation for bumping Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) into a top priority for robotics at the Department of Defense (DoD).
The Naval Research Laboratory already has prototype on-ship firefighting robots in humanoid form—so they can navigate passages and use firefighting tools designed for humans—and the DoD already has remote-controlled robots for sifting through rubble for survivors.
However, the grand challenge set for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is fully autonomous operation in environments originally designed for humans, but which have been damaged beyond repair by disasters.
Key will be the ability to navigate human rubble-strewn passageways, use any human tools they find there as well as being able to follow instructions from humans who had had no prior training in robotics.
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