The Drexel team aims for its horse in the race, Hubo, to act like any 19-year-old first responder or Marine in its ability to drive cars, climb ladders, break walls with tools, and walk over rough terrain, Paul Oh, professor at Drexel's Mechanical Engineering Department and director of the Drexel Autonomous Systems Lab, told us. “Cognitively this means equipping Hubo with algorithms to do these tasks without much human intervention,” he said.
The skills the team assigns to Hubo also will inform the design of these robots not only by today’s researchers, but also by engineering students who can learn from this experience when they begin developing robots themselves, Oh added. “Having Hubo drive cars, operate tools, and climb ladders enables Drexel's world-leading experts to showcase the state-of-the-art,” he said. “This not only teaches stakeholders in government and industry, but it also educates today's students who will be tomorrow's robot engineers. Events like car driving have not been tackled before and thus present a well-defined goal to learn what is possible.”
Challenge participants are currently readying for a site visit by DARPA scheduled for this summer. In December, the robots will participate in their first physical challenge, which will require them to do the following:
Drive a utility vehicle at the site;
Travel dismounted across rubble;
Remove debris blocking an entryway;
Open a door and enter a building;
Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway;
Use a power tool to break through a barrier;
Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe;
Attach a connector such as a wire harness or fire hose.
The highest performing teams will receive continued funding from DARPA to go on to the final challenge event in December 2014.
These are all interesting designs from some of the brightest minds in robotics, and it seems that this type of technology is in demand and innovation is needed. While robots were deployed at Fukushima to help the recovery there, the latest report is that the technology is not working as expected and isn't as advanced at it needs to be yet. This competition should bolster those types of efforts; just depends on how long it will take to make an impact.
Robots are often in humanoid form in order to be well received by the general public. But, do we still need that? If a non-humanoid form is more efficient, it should be used. Do we need robots to look like Iron Man in order to be acceptable? It's good to see at least two that aren't humanoid.
One quick question: is the phrase "act like any 19-year-old first responder" from the manufacturer?
To answer your second question first, NadineJ: Yes, that phrase is from the manufacturer. It's not exactly how I would word such a thing.
And you're right in that these robots don't all have to be humanoid to get the job done. Perhaps sometimes that is not the ideal design and hopefully engineers will make the right choice in those cases. Thanks for your comment.
To continue a series of posts on this site from last year; humans will likely continue to design humanoid robots for many years. The existance of a humanoid, bipedal animal representing the results of millenia of evolution suggests this is likely the best form for optimum versatility. Second, we feel comfortable thinking within the central trunk bipedal opposed thumb paradigm. Makes it easier to model during construction. Like the wheel, the original model works pretty well. Two million doesn't seem like very much money considering what they're asking for though.
Elizabeth, Excellent slide show. It's amazing to see the amount of development that is going into humanoid robot designs. Will be interesting to see how this materializes in terms of commercial impact in the future. Thanks.
Sure thing, apresher. It is fascinating for me to write about this and there is significant development in this area, something that could have a real impact on how disaster recovery is carried out in the human world in the future. Thanks for your interest.
Elizabeth M, This competition is quite a challenge for Search and Rescue Robot Designers. The bar has definitely been raised based on the design requirements the engineering teams must meet. The slide show is very interesting as well. It's amazing to see different solutions to make a better mice trap. I'll definitely be sharing the slide show with my Electrical Engineering tech students. Great article!
Elizabeth, when you say "While robots were deployed at Fukushima to help the recovery there, the latest report is that the technology is not working as expected and isn't as advanced at it needs to be yet.", which specific robot technology are you referring to, and what reports?
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