DARPA Challenge: Build Virtual Robots
Seven teams advance in robotics challenge, helping DARPA explore how virtual robots could improve disaster response.
June 27, 2013
"The robot must find a way to get into a utility vehicle and drive it,
then how to locomote over muddy and uneven terrain, then how to pick up a
firehose and attach it, then turn it on," said Dr. Gill Pratt, the
program manager for the DRC, at a press briefing before the competition
began. The teams ran each of the three scenarios five times, for 15
[ DARPA shifts focus to keep up with budget constraints and new threats. Read more: DARPA: New Threats Demand New Technologies. ]
To complicate the assignment -- but add a level of realism to the
simulation since communications are often problematic at a disaster site
-- the VRC set a round-trip latency on data communications between the
teams and the virtual robot and played with the number of communications
bits available per run, all the way from 900 megabits down to 60
DARPA provided all teams access to the DRC Simulator,
developed by the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF). "This
simulator runs in real time and does sophisticated tasks," Pratt said.
"This is the first time we're able to run a robot at tasks in a
simulated environment," he said. The teams were required to develop
software that would direct the virtual robot through the tasks. The
performance characteristics of the virtual robot were based on the
real-world performance capabilities of the Atlas robot, built by Boston
Dynamics and modeled on its Petman humanoid robot platform.
Brian Gerkey, CEO of OSRF, said the simulation software platform aims to
recreate as closely as possible the physics of the real world so that
the software developed by the winning teams during the VRC can then be
used in the next round of competition, when all the teams will be given a
real robot to complete additional tasks.
"The software should transfer to a robot in the physical environment and
translate into similar [performance]," Gerkey said. "So those who do
well in the virtual challenge should be able to run their software
almost unchanged on the physical robot."
The original plan was for the 26 qualifying teams in the VRC, drawn from
eight countries, to compete for one of six slots in the next round of
competition, where they would be provided their own Atlas robot and
compete against other teams who are building their own robots.
Instead, nine teams were selected to move to the second round of
competition, and ultimately seven will compete after some teams elected
to join forces. The next round of trials is set for December and will
involve physical execution of individual disaster response tasks.
The best-performing teams from the trials will receive funding to
prepare for the DRC Finals in December 2014, when their robots will be
faced with an "end-to-end" disaster scenario. The team that wins the
final event will win a $2 million prize.
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