EVERYTHING HUMANOIDLY POSSIBLE
A recent notice posted on the US Federal Business Opportunities
website confirms that DARPA has selected Boston Dynamics as a "sole
source" to develop and build the humanoid robots that the software
teams will use in the DARPA Robotics Challenge."Of the few existing
humanoid robots," the notice says,"[Boston Dynamics] was deemed to
be the sole viable supplier for providing the necessary robotic platform
capability within the specified timeframe." Boston Dynamics will build
eight identical humanoids which will be based on PETMAN and Atlas —
robots that the firm built for the US Army and DARPA, respectively. The
result is expected to be "a one of a kind humanoid robot with state-of-the-art capability."
The final form of the humanoid is expected to have two arms, two
legs, a torso, and a head, and will be physically capable of performing all
of the tasks required for the disaster response scenarios scheduled in
the Challenge." These tasks include driving cars, walking across rubble,
moving heavy objects, opening and closing doors and valves, using tools,
and climbing ladders.
One of the primary differences between the final platform and the
current platform is going to be the addition of a head, which will likely
contain the sensors allowing for the hybrid autonomous and
teleoperated control that DARPA seems to have in mind for the
Challenge (stereo cameras and LIDAR). Otherwise, what you'll expect to
see is a 150 kg humanoid with a pair of two or three fingered hands.
Boston Dynamics is very well known for developing “dynamic”
robots — machines that rather than using static techniques to control
their motion move dynamically, relying on advanced control software and
high performance hydraulic actuators. The trade-off is that hydraulics
generally demand a fairly beastly engine.
"We’re not going to disallow tethers in order to power the robot, but the tether will not be able to go all the way back to
the operator. So, what the utility vehicle can help with is you can put the power supply for the robot on the flatbed of the
vehicle and then the tether can go to the robot, and the vehicle is now a movable base that the robot can operate a certain
distance from," commented program manager Dr. Gill Pratt.
There's nothing that says teams have to use a humanoid platform at all, and DARPA has been very specific that the
Challenge is "decidedly not exclusive to humanoid systems." There are lots of reasons why humanoids are a good idea, but that
in no way means that humanoids are necessarily the best idea. Of course, completing tasks involving equipment that's been
built for humans (like climbing a ladder) would be quite difficult for non-humanoid robots, unless some creative solutions are
So, what about other humanoid robots? Well, there are some possible contenders, including ASH/SAFFiR (funded by the US
Navy), as well as Meka and UT Austin's hyper agile biped.
The Challenge will last 15 months from October 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013, at which point there will be a
competition. A second phase will happen from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014, ending with another competition where
teams will try to improve their performances.
HERB REACHES FINAL FRONTIER
Herb — the Home Exploring Robot Butler — has been hard at work
at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute learning how to be —you
guessed it — a home exploring robot butler. Siddhartha Srinivasa's
group has effectively ended robotics research as we know it by
teaching Herb to microwave frozen food. Yep, that's it. No more
funding, no more papers, no more conferences. Robots can now do
everything we could ever want.
28 SERVO 06.2012