Twenty-five robots from around the world gathered in Pomona, CA over the last couple of days to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals. The teams, which earned their spot in the finals from 2013’s DRC trials, have the best of the best when it comes to humanoid and non-humanoid robots. Tasks which may seem like cake walk for humans aren’t so easy for robots, and that’s exactly how this competition was like. The DRC focused on disaster-related challenges such as opening doors, turning valves, and even driving vehicles. Over half of the robots failed to complete at least four out of the eight challenges. But out of the three robots that managed to score the eight points, Team KAIST from South Korea was able to complete the course in a mere 44:28 minutes (that’s impressive for robots).
Team KAIST entered the competition with their humanoid DRC-HUBO robot. HUBO, which stands for “HUmanoid roBOt”, was developed back in 2002, but DRC-HUBO is said to be the most powerful of the previous HUBO robots. Team KAIST says that their DRC-HUBO sports extremely powerful motors that can handle a higher workload, and it’s even equipped with an air cooling system. Unlike some robots which used Robotiq’s robot hands, DRC-HUBO has its own pair that can handle difficult tasks that would come up in a disaster scenario. In addition, DRC-HUBO can transform from a standing position into a sitting position where it can ride around on wheels located on its legs. With that, you’re getting the best of both worlds in terms of mobility.
I was watching the live stream pretty much all day long on the first day of the finals, and Team KAIST was surprisingly quick when it entered the course. When compared to the new, sleek, and American-made ATLAS robots (6 out of 25 teams used this robot), you don’t bother to take two glances at DRC-HUBO. But given that the other completion times for the teams that scored eight points was over 50 minutes, it’s no surprise that Team KAIST won the overall DRC.
Speaking of winning the DRC, Team KAIST took home the grand prize of $2 million to further advance their research and development of advanced robotics systems. I say “further advance” because quite a few of these “advanced” robots took some hilarious falls during the DRC finals. Nonetheless, DRC has proven that we’ve taken the first steps into creating the robots of tomorrow.