Robots readied for big tests

2013-12-17 07:29
This photo shows 'Reptar', a robotic snake that is one of 17 possible creations available in the new, Lego Mindstorms EV3 platform. (Lego, AP, file)

This photo shows 'Reptar', a robotic snake that is one of 17 possible creations available in the new, Lego Mindstorms EV3 platform. (Lego, AP, file)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Pennsauken - The real world has not caught up yet with Star Wars and its talking, thinking robots, but some of the most sophisticated units that exist are heading to Florida this week for a Defence Department-sponsored competition.

Seventeen humanoid robots will be evaluated on Friday and Saturday at Homestead Miami Speedway for how well they can complete tasks including getting into an all-terrain vehicle and driving it and opening doors.

It's all stuff people can do. But the mission for the teams in the competition is to make robots that could function in disaster zones where the conditions could be threatening to humans.

It's advanced but not science-fiction. The robots, which move far slower than humans, are controlled by people telling them what action to take.

The top bots will move into the finals in 2014. The winning team gets $2m as part of a project of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Tests

The entry by defence contractor Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories, made with help from students at the University of Pennsylvania and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, has been tested in an industrial park in Pennsauken, New Jersey.

The labs did well enough in the virtual version of the competition this year to be supplied a prebuilt robot and allowed to continue to this month's round of the Darpa challenge.

With the machine already built, Lockheed's team was responsible for the software. "We want the system to be intuitive to untrained operators," said Bill Borgia, the director of Lockheed's intelligent robotics laboratory.

During a practice session last week, an engineer used a joystick and a computer mouse to tell the 1.8m tall, 135kg robot where - and how - to move as it picked up pieces of rubble.

In a real-life rubble removing situation, the controller might not be close to the robot. That's why the operators did their work from behind a black curtain. They had monitors to show the view from a camera on the robot, but they could not see the whole action from the outside.

The robot designed at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University is called Chimp - for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform. It is just over 1.5m tall and is one of 10 robots that were designed and built from scratch over the last 14 months for the Darpa challenge. Other teams are using their software on robots supplied by Darpa.

Anthony Stentz is the director of the National Robotics Engineering Centre at Carnegie Mellon and the lead researcher on Chimp.

"We wanted to design a robot that had roughly human form, so that it fits in the environment that humans operate in. But we didn't want to take on the difficult task of building a machine that is too humanlike," Stentz said.

Changing environments

For example, walking on two legs presents a major engineering challenge, so Chimp rolls on treads, like a small tank. It has treads on its arms, too, and gets down on all fours to go over rough terrain.

Like other robots in the competition, Chimp gets some commands from humans but also has the ability to make limited decisions. "So we are telling it what to do, and it's deciding how to do it," Stentz said.

Stentz said many people don't really understand how difficult it is to get a machine to do even simple tasks. Robots excel in doing particular things such as welding a car part on an assembly line. But search and rescue missions take place in vastly different and constantly changing environments.

During practice runs at CMU, it took Chimp several minutes to open a door or attach a fire hose to a water faucet. While less exciting than fictional robots' capabilities, those tasks are more complicated and varied than robots usually do, such as vacuuming a room.

"We think that the public ends up with a sense that robots are far more capable than they are," Stentz said of how Hollywood portrays the machines.
Read more on:    robotics

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.