DARPA Robot Challenge Begins
The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) officially kicked off this week, and what can I say — this is huge.
The primary goal of the DARPA Robotics Challenge program is to develop ground robotic capabilities to execute complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. The program will focus on robots that can use available human tools, ranging from hand tools to vehicles.
They’re pursuing these goals in several very interesting ways. First, they’re providing so-called Government Funded Equipment to some teams — which means, a full-sized state-of-the-art Boston Dynamics robot based on the ATLAS prototype — in order to let those with mad programming skills but no hardware chops to participate. Second, they’re providing what is probably the world’s most advanced 3D physics-based robot simulator to anybody who wants it — you can go download it right now. And finally, of course, there is the competition itself, divided into four tracks:
Track A and Track D competitors will develop bots that are entirely their own, in both hardware and software. See this IEEE Spectrum article for a great overview the top-notch contestants in this category. Competitors in Track A are being funded directly by DARPA; those in Track D are doing the same tasks, but on their own dime.
Tracks B and C are for teams that want to develop control software, without also doing hardware development. Those in Track B are provided funding by DARPA; those in Track C provide their own funding. Competitors in both B and C are eligible to win an ATLAS robot and hardware support at the end of the Virtual Robotics Challenge, which takes place in June 2013 and is based solely on the simulator software. Tracks C and D are still open, and Track C requires little investment other than time and programming skill — if you have those, you could enter the competition right now.
The world has never seen this much time, money, and talent focused on such clearly-defined goals in humanoid robotics. With a freely available simulator platform will be far beyond anything ever created before, and this competition spurring rapid development, it seems likely that the 20-teens will become known as the decade when robots (as we’ve always imagined them) really came to be.