On March 11, 2011, the meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactors was caused by a devastating tsunami brought on by magnitude 9 earthquake. Repairing these reactors was unsafe and virtually impossible due to the radioactive materials that was being released. In reaction to this event, DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, launched The Robotic Challenge. This contest called for engineers, inventors and students worldwide to create disaster response robots that can perform critical and complex life-saving tasks with human operators secluded in a remote location.
The competition, which started in 2012, culminated in an exciting final event on June 5th and 6th in Pomona, CA where the robots had to demonstrate their capabilities in facing emergency-response scenarios. 22 robotic teams from all over the world participated in the finals.
At the final event, the robots must complete 8 tasks which included driving a utility vehicle, climbing a ladder and removing rubble from an entryway. Out of all the 22 participants, 3 robots achieved a perfect score but the tie was broken by ranking the winners based on fastest time. Team KAIST from South Korea took the grand prize of $2 million with its robot, DRC-HUBO. With its capability to kneel, rotate its torso up to 180-degree angles and the long extension of its arms, the DRC-HUBO was able to perform the 8 tasks with the shortest time of 44 minutes. Coming in 2nd is Team IHMC from Pensacola, FL with the Running Man and in 3rd is Tartan Rescue from Pittsburgh, PA with CHIMP.
In addition to the main competition, there were different organizations showcasing other robotic innovations at the exhibition area. One of the exhibitors was Menlo Park-based R&D Institute, SRI International. SRI International was demonstrating their highly efficient robot, DURUS. This robot boasts of a low cost, high performance manipulators and a naturalistic walking gait which makes it have a higher endurance in walking longer distances before it runs out of power. According to the engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum, DURUS’ effectiveness was demonstrated at the event by walking on a treadmill for 2-and-a-half hours on a fully-charged battery. This measurement is said by IEEE Spectrum to be 20 times more efficient than its predecessors.
With the conclusion of this competition, DARPA was able to fulfill its initial mission in spreading the word to fast-track robotic technology to aid in disaster settings. These robots are not only exciting to see in action, this technology can potentially be life-changing.
For more information on The Robotic Challenge and all the robots that competed, go to the official contest’s website: http://www.theroboticschallenge.org/