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Japan's Team Schaft Takes Top Place In DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials In Miami

posted 22 Dec 2013, 05:22 by Mpelembe   [ updated 22 Dec 2013, 05:23 ]

At the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge Trials in Miami, Team Schaft from Japan takes the lead. The top eight teams claimed a spot in the 2014 finals and up to $1 million in funding.

MIAMI, FLORIDAUNITED STATES (DECEMBER, 21, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Team Schaft from Japan led the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials on Saturday (December 21) at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in a competition that brought the world's most advanced robots in an extreme challenge to outperform each other in tasks related to assist humans in natural or man-made disasters.

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Eight teams claimed a spot in the 2014 finals and have the opportunity to negotiate government funding for their robotics research and advancement.

DARPA, which stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, hopes the competition will spur the development of robots that can work in places where the dangers are too high for human intervention.

Earlier in the final day of the challenge, a squat, red-and-black robot nicknamed CHIMP gingerly pushed open a spring-loaded door after trying the task for quite some time.

Gill Pratt, Program Manager for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, said the robotics industry is on the cusp of making robots with even greater functionality as robot makers keep pushing ahead with cutting edge technology.

"The next advance that we need to make in the robotics field will come on several fronts. First, we need to make the robots more energetically autonomous. No more power cords back to the ground. They have to carry their own power sources whether it's batteries or fuel. Second, the robots need to be much more robust when they fall. So no more tethers the way that we have here for safety. If they fall, they have to not damage themselves and be able to get back up. Third, the amount of intelligence that's inside the robot to be able to handle small tasks on their own," said Pratt.

During the two-day competition, 17 teams had their robots face obstacles designed to mimic the challenges following a disaster. Robots have to open doors, climb up stairs, navigate debris-strewn terrain, and locate and turn off leaking vales. Officials from DARPA also weaken the link between robots and their operators, further simulating a disaster.

"Murphy's law is very big in robotics. So even though you've planned and tried to put together things ahead of time, it's very difficult to account for all the uncertainty that you're going to face," saidDaniel Lee, team leader for the Thor team.

In most of the challenges, successes were about as common as failures. Many robots tumble off an industrial ladder designed to test sight and balance.

"People take for granted how we comply to a mechanism or to our environment and just adapt to it in real time. A robot is really cutting edge to be able to do that, to balance to move out of the way when your model in your head of the environment doesn't quite match the physical reality," saidChristopher McQuin, NASA's chief engineer for hardware development.

The eight teams with the highest scores will be awarded up to $1 million in funding to prepare for the final round in late 2014, where a winner will take $2 million.

After the final round next year, Pratt said there are plans for another robotics challenge, possibly to be hosted in Japan.