Robots rule the day at DARPA’s Robotics Challenge

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The robot from Florida-based Team IHMC Robotics, which finished in second place, flips backward as it tries to climb over rubble during the DARPA Robotics Challenge. (DARPA)

The robots came. They saw. And they fell. Again and again.

But the competitors at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, held over the weekend in California, were expected to fall as they tried to open doors, climb over rubble and drive golf carts around the Pomona Fairplex.

Launched in response to the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the challenge was designed to spur the creation of robots that could perform tasks in disaster areas too dangerous for humans. It culminated Sunday with 23 teams of engineers and scientists competing for a $2 million first prize.

DARPA program manager and challenge organizer Gill Pratt said despite all the robots’ flailing and falling, the two-year challenge opened the door to a world of possibilities when it comes to robotics.

“These robots are big and made of lots of metal and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety,” Pratt said in a release. “But we heard groans of sympathy when those robots fell. And what did people do every time a robot scored a point? They cheered! It’s an extraordinary thing, and I think this is one of the biggest lessons from DRC — the potential for robots not only to perform technical tasks for us, but to help connect people to one another.”

The winning team, Team Kaist, was based out of South Korea, which worked with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas on its DRC-HUBO robot. Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Florida, finished second with its Running Man robot, winning $1 million. The third place finisher, earning the $500,000 prize, was Tartan Rescue of Pittsburgh, which owned and operated the CHIMP robot.

“This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters,” said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar. “I am so proud of all the teams that participated and know that the community that the DRC has helped to catalyze will do great things in the years ahead.”

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Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Department of Defense (DOD), Departments
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