hummana hummuna

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Chimp - Carnegie Mellon

I have watched the DARPA robotics challenge from the periphery. There is so much to talk about regarding the program I can barely scratch the surface on a saturday afternoon. But let us start at the beginning. What is DARPA? DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. You can read their own pdf here. DARPA is an agency of the federal government that was established in the face of Sputnik in 1958. It's self described mission; preventing technological surprise from adversely affecting our country while creating surprises for U.S. adversaries.

Thor - Virginia Tech
DARPA funds a lot of research and development in hopes of using said research down the road. And so we have the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

DARPA created a contest where global teams were solicited to create software to build robots designed to help humans in disaster response situations. The first go round was purely virtual. Here are the stated objectives for the challenge:
The DARPA Robotic Challenge will focus on developing robots that can operate in rough terrain and austere conditions, using aids (vehicles and hand tools) commonly available in populated areas. Specifically, we want to prove that the following capabilities can be accomplished:
Compatibility with environments engineered for humans (even if they are degraded)
Ability to use a diverse assortment of tools engineered for humans (from screwdrivers to vehicles)
Ability to be supervised by humans who have had little to no robotics training.
Supervised autonomy is critical, as it allows simple tasks to be performed by the robot without full-time operator intervention. This will be especially important in unreliable communications environments.
robosimian - NASA
Twenty-six teams from eight countries qualified to compete in the VRC, which ran from June 17-21, 2013. DARPA had allocated resources for the six teams that did best, but at some point they changed the number of entrants to nine. They are as follows:

    1. Team IHMC, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Pensacola, Fla. (52 points)
    2. WPI Robotics Engineering C Squad (WRECS), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass. (39 points)
    3. MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. (34 points)
    4. Team TRACLabs, TRACLabs, Inc., Webster, Texas (30 points)
    5. JPL / UCSB / Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. (29 points)
    6. TORC, TORC / TU Darmstadt / Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. (27 points)
    7. Team K, Japan (25 points)
    8. TROOPER, Lockheed Martin / University of Pennsylvania / Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Cherry Hill, N.J. (24 points)
    9. Case Western University, Cleveland, Ohio (23 points)

Schaft Inc. - HRP-2 based biped

DARPA built its own robot as well. Say hello to ATLAS.

ATLAS is a hydraulically powered robot in the form of an adult human. It is capable of a variety of natural movements, including dynamic walking, calisthenics and user-programmed behavior. Based on the Petman humanoid robot platform, Atlas was modified to meet the needs of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

    Near-human anthropometry
    2 arms, 2 legs, torso and head.
    28 hydraulically actuated joints with closed-  loop position & force control
    On-board real time control computer
    Electric power & network tether
    On-board hydraulic pump & thermal mgmt
    Crash protection
    Modular wrists accept 3rd party hands
    Head-mounted sensor package with LIDAR,   stereo sensors, dedicated sensor electronics and perception algorithms.

DARPA has also created the fastest robot this side of ricochet rabbit. Check out the Cheetah.

IHMC high point robot
I had a couple thoughts and early observations. The first one is how smart it was to package this as a benevolent mission project to assist man in disaster response. How the black ops people must be itching to figure out how to reconfigure these puppies into high tech weaponry and killing tools. Hey, easy to do. After all, what good is a robot if it can't blow shit up?

The other initial observation is how many of the robots assembled homo sapiens. Four digits, opposable thumb, two armed bipeds, hmmm, where have I seen that before? Wouldn't a sixth finger come in handy, sure would if we could teach them to play piano? And four extremities, wouldn't a third arm free the other two up for texting and who knows what? Looks like most of these guy's appendages are capable of both ambulation and manual dexterity. But why an even number of limbs?

Of course, machines with human like anatomical structure might have an advantage in completing human tasks. And who knows, maybe one day these things will have to pass for human? Might be an advantage to fit in.

Still, I give points to those creators who have lost their anthropomorphic conceit and tried to break the mold. Love the chimp.

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