DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) in the ITGS classroom

DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC)
One of the challenges involved driving a vehicle

In early 2014 I wrote about the results of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) – a two day trial in which disaster robots faced eight different obstacles and challenges. In that competition Google’s Schaft robot ultimately came out on top, winning 27 points – 7 more than its nearest rival.

Earlier this month the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge were held. This challenge featured the same eight tasks, but with a new shorter course and a tough 60 minute time limit. Teams had to create robots that could drive a vehicle, drill through a wall, navigate rubble either by clambering across it or clearing a path, and open a valve.

DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC)
One of the challenges involved driving a vehicle (Source)

The various robotic challenges that have been run by DARPA in the last ten years are very useful teaching tools for the ITGS classroom because they deal with the latest developments in robotic technology. While many of the tasks in the DRC seems relatively simple for humans, they are a challenge for even the most advanced robotic designs. This is great for helping students understand exactly what robotic technology is and is not capable of achieving, which in turn can help them in their examination answers if they are required to evaluate the use of a particular system (this happens a lot in Section C of ITGS paper 1).

A fun activity can be to look at the various teams’ robotic designs (an overview of all teams is here), discuss their chances of success and their likely flaws, and then watch the results of the competition to see if your predictions were correct.

Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC)
The door opening challenge proved difficult for some of the robots (Source)

Another good aspect of the DRC is that the challenges can often be recreated on a smaller scale for classroom robots such as the Lego Mindstorms, similar to the activity I described in the Mars Explorer competition. Seeing students trying to create robots to clear Lego bricks from with a certain area can reveal a wide and creative range of possible solutions and really highlight the need for both good hardware and software design in a robot.Finally, the development of robots such as these can be a useful starting point for a discussion about the uses and applications of robots, the direction of future developments, and the related social impacts. With DARPA being a military research agency, this can also open some interesting ethical questions.

By now there is a large amount of media covering the DARPA Robotics Challenge. This time lapse of the KAIST robot competing tasks provides an interesting overview:

A full length video of one of the competition’s days (no commentary):

And of course, a compilation of robotic spills:

You can view a lot more videos on DARPA’s YouTube channel, including full length videos of each day and shortened highlight videos. If you want to know the results of the competition, the BBC has a good article describing the results of the DRC.

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