DARPA Robotic Challenge for Rescue Robots

DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC)
UPDATE 19/1/2014: The DARPA Robotic Challenge ran in December 2013. You can find resources relating to the results of the trials in my post DARPA Robotic Challenge Results.I have used the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge (a race for driverless vehicles over harsh desert terrain) and the 2007 Urban Challenge (a similar race in built-up environments) as case studies several times when teaching the Higher Level topic Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Expert Systems. There is a wide range of resources available to support these topics, including a free video of the event (see links at end of page).

The DARPA Robotic Challenge
The latest DARPA Robotic Challenge (DRC) is for rescue robots, which (who?) must complete a series of 8 tasks including climbing a ladder, connecting a fire hose, clearing rubble, and driving a car. The latter is a significantly more challenging task than previous Grand Challenges because as well as entering and exiting the vehicle, the robot must be able to interact with the controls of a normal car. Even simple tasks such as grasping a steering wheel could prove challenging.

The official DARPA Robotic Challenge page is a good first stop for information and media about the events and the competitors. The 8 Daunting Tasks Of The DARPA Robotics Challenge is a buzzfeed article which describes the challenges facing the robots. As the diagram below makes clear, these challenges could have a wide range of real-world applications, from clearing up nuclear accidents such as Fukushima, to rescuing people trapped in buildings after earthquakes.

One of the tasks involves entering and driving a vehicle (Credit: DARPA)
View videos of all 8 robotic challenges

The Teams and the Robots
A wide range of teams are entering robots, including large universities such as Carnegie Mellon University (TARTAN Rescue), Virginia Tech (Team THOR), and MIT (Team ViGIR). There are also several government and military entries, including two from NASA (JSC Team Valkyrie and RoboSimian). The 10 Robots You’ll Meet At The DARPA Robotics Challenge gives an overview of the teams.

The Atlas robot will be competing (Credit: DARPA)


ITGS Activity Ideas
Trials for the robots are being held this weekend (December 20/21 2013): a bit late for many ITGS teachers to follow in the classroom, but still a great chance to link to parts of the ITGS syllabus. A few good ITGS activity ideas spring to mind:

  • Have students examine the eight tasks and make predictions about their potential difficulties and how the teams might address these problems.
  • Have students examine the robots using online resources, describe their functionality using technical language, and assess how they might fare in the each of the challenges. Their predictions can then be checked against reality after the events.
  • Discuss the applications of these robots beyond the challenge (DARPA are, after all, a branch of the military).
  • Have students use social media such as the DARPA Twitter feed to follow the events

This challenge is also a great opportunity to discuss robotic design techniques, in particular humanoid or bipedal robots and their advantages and disadvantages.


Following the Robotic Challenges
There are also quite a few ways to follow events on social media, including the DARPA Twitter feed and Facebook page. For the latest news on robotics in general, I thoroughly recommend IEEE Spectrum’s robotics page.

UPDATE 19/1/2014: Now that the challenge is complete, you can read the results and view the challenges in this post.

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