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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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