Robots readied for big test

robots and disaster zones:A robot put through some paces as it pulls a fire hose from during a preparation run at the National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh.Photo: APSeventeen humanoid robots will take part in a U.S. Defense Department contest.

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

Seventeen humanoid robots will be evaluated 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.

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.


DARPA challenge

The top bots will move into the finals next year. The winning team gets $2 million as part of a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The entry by defense 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 6-foot tall, 300-pound 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 is 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 5 feet 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.AP



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