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International Competitors Join CMU Teams in DARPA Robotics Challenge

Byron SpiceThursday, March 5, 2015

Tartan Rescue has designed and built a four-limbed robot, CHIMP, for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The finals will take place June 5–6 in Pomona, Calif.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has qualified 14 additional teams, including competitors from Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, China and South Korea, to join teams from Carnegie Mellon University and elsewhere in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, June 5–6 in Pomona, Calif.

Tartan Rescue, a team fielded by CMU's National Robotics Engineering Center, and Team WPI-CMU, a team based at Worcester Polytechnic Institute that includes CMU Robotics Professor Chris Atkeson, were among 11 teams that previously qualified for the DRC Finals based on their performance at the DRC Trials in December 2013.

The teams will compete for one of three cash prizes, totaling $3.5 million, based on how their robots perform in response to a simulated natural or man-made disaster. Robots will have one hour to perform a series of tasks, such as driving a vehicle, climbing stairs and using power tools. DARPA also will include a "surprise" task.

Unlike the earlier trials, all of the robots will operate only on battery power, communicate wirelessly with their operators and operate without a safety harness, placing them in danger of falls.

Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager for the DRC, said the competition seeks to optimize human-robot teams — taking advantage of a robot's ability to operate in environments that may be hazardous to humans, while humans use their superior cognitive ability to make critical decisions for the robots.

"We're looking forward to seeing how teams ensure the robustness of their robots against falls, strategically manage battery power and build enough partial autonomy into the robots to complete the challenge tasks despite DARPA deliberately degrading the communication links between robots and operators," Pratt said.

"It is a great honor to be selected as a finalist for the DRC, given the importance of the challenge and the strength of the field," said Tony Stentz, Tartan Rescue team leader. "The DRC has developed valuable technology not only for disaster response but also for challenging work sites in general and for advanced manufacturing, logistics and distribution. We expect to pursue these opportunities post-competition."

Tartan Rescue has designed and built a four-limbed robot, CHIMP, for the competition. Team WPI-CMU will be one of seven teams using an Atlas humanoid robot that DARPA provided to the teams. The other teams include such groups as MIT, the University of Tokyo, Virginia Tech, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin.

"There will be roughly 15 different commercial and custom physical robot forms demonstrated at the DRC Finals," Pratt said. "Although seven teams will use the upgraded Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics, it's each team's unique software and strategy for applying the hardware that will distinguish them and push the technology forward."

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