Atlas, a humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics based on its Atlas robot platform, has seven degrees of freedom in each arm, six degrees of freedom in each leg, and a sensor head with stereo vision and laser radar. It is being designed specifically for meeting the demands of the challenge. (Source: Boston Dynamics)
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.
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!
Indeed, for me the DRC is a teaching moment for roboticists, first responders and policy makers (especially on the roles robots can serve in collaborative tasks, for innovating technologies, and fueling the future economy).
If there is material I can provide, please don't hesitate asking. I have a slide presentation (with vocals) on http://www.drc-hubo.com called "The What, Why, When, Where, and How of the DRC".
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?
Hi, Ann, here's the link to the report I read about what has been going on at Fukushima: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/03/20/robots-have-failed-fukushima-daiichi-and-japan/
It is more about Japan not having access to the robotic technology it needed when it should have, which I guess speaks to the urgency of developing this type of technology and the relevance of the DARPA contest.
Thanks for clarifying, Elizabeth. Yes, Japan was caught short after Fukushima, in the sense of not having the appropriate robotics technology for search and rescue, since they hadn't been developing robots in that app area. That's why they had to look outside the country, getting help from iRobot and QinetiQ. But now they're developing their own robots for Fukushima, which I covered here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=255699 http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=253921 But I don't think it's accurate to say that the robot technology is not working as expected. Japan didn't have the appropriate technology available during the crisis, and the American robots they imported were not designed to handle such insanely high levels of radiation.
Actually, I was implying that the eyes make it more creepy, Nadine. I'm wondering if they are leaving out the eyes to reduce the creepiness factor. Eyes might make it too human, which creeps people out.
I am not sure I agree with you NadieJ, but I can see why you would say that you prefer robots that are more clearly machines than human. I think humanoid robots may seem a bit strange, but in some cases I think people may be more comfortable working with them. Then again, it might be creepy to get TOO comfortable and think you're dealing with a human. I guess as they become more commonplace, these problems will get solved.
I can see what you mean, Elizabeth. Many need a "human" connection depending on how the robot is used.
If you're interested in sci-fi anime, Ghost in the Shell 2 depicts the perils of creating very humanlike robots. I gues a lot of sci-fi does. What I like about this movie is that it addresses many of the roles we will expect robots to play as the technology progresses. And, it explores how human and "human" nature clash.
Thanks for the recommendation, Nadine. I will check that out sometime. I am not sure how I feel about having very human-like robots. I guess it would depend. I haven't been around any robots live and in person really, so it is hard to say. But Ann, another one of our bloggers, was around Baxter, Rethink Robotics' robot that sort of combines both human and machine features, and I think she actually found "him" quite comfortable to be around. It also, of course, depends on the person.
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.
Biomimicry in robotics, at least, doesn't mean generally resembling; it means something very specific. It refers to studying particular biological systems to see how they work, and translating their neurological, muscular, skeletal, etc systems--structures and/or functions-- into mechanical and/or electronic analogs. This is much more recent than the fundamental research type of approach that goes more like: what would happen if we made a robot with three legs vs six and used XYZ actuation types. Boston Dynamics, for example, was one of the very early pioneers in patterning robots after specific animals.
Nadine, yes I was responding to your comment. I agree that biomimicry doesn't exclude humans: that seems obvious. I've studied biomimicry in robotics, and saying all robots are biomimics isn't accurate in that area, although it may be elsewhere. But it's such a general statement that I don't see its usefulness from robotics engineering standpoint. And saying humans are biomimics doesn't make sense to me at all, since we are biological systems. In any case, my comments specifically about biomimicry in robotics stand.
Nadine, thanks for the comment. I interpreted, "At the end of the day, all robots are bio-mimics. Humans included." to mean what its grammar says, which is that humans are bio-mimics. It's hard to interpret that in some other way. In any case, I do agree about more precise writing and close reading.
I find that using clear, widely-understood meanings for terms makes written, non-duplex communication much easier (spoken, full-duplex communication, like in a phone or F2F conversation, is of course usually a lot clearer since multiple, instant iterations are possible when needed). I also find that precision and accuracy are important in all communications.
It's true that clear communication and comprehension are important. Acronyms and colloquialisms can be confusing.
Back to the robots...I don't agree that robots' "perceptions and movements should be as human as possible" in order to work in a space designed for humans. Observing a cat or dog in a new space demonstrates that non-humans can navigate spaces created for humans as well as, or better than, people.
I completely agree with you about human-like robots not being necessary for working in human-design spaces. I also think that goes for how human-like they must be in looks or operation: Some people like that similarity to humans, but some, like me, not only don't need it but find the uncanny valley effect horrific. OTOH, a lot of work has been done to help robots and humans communicate better so they can work together safely and productively. One of those things is designing robot hands to work more like ours for a number of reasons: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=260644
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.
Chuck, I agree about the eyes and it raises questions about the design goals for these humanoid robots. I would think that they serve as a research platform especially for the universities, but I would think that some design details (eyes, torsos) are more about aesthetics. I think the Robosimian is an extremely unique design. Love to see how it moves.
Thanks for the report and information on the Japanese disaster. Very interesting use for robotics technology, and it's easy to see how the extremely high levels of radiation would create an unanticipated technical challenge for these systems.
I suppose in looking at the report again, Ann, I misspoke in my comment. But it's interesting to see the struggles Japan had using these type of robots and hopefully this can inform future design and development. The DARPA work certainly should go a long way to improving the technology as well.
As manufacturers add new technologies to their products, designing for compliance becomes more difficult. Prepare for the certification testing process. Otherwise, you increase the risk of discovering a safety issue after a product leaves the assembly line. That will cause significant time-to-market delays, be much costlier to fix, and damage your brand in the eyes of customers.
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