76 SERVO 09.2015
the Fukushima site.
Let’s look back at the 2011
earthquake disaster that spurred
DARPA’s decision to have this latest
challenge. On March 11, 2011, one of
the most powerful and damaging
earthquakes on record hit the east
coast of Japan. There is not a country
on earth that is more primed for
earthquake and tsunami disasters than
Japan, but this powerful shaker
caught them unprepared.
At 2: 46 in the afternoon, the
Prefecture of Fukushima was struck
with an earthquake that measured 9.0
on the Richter scale. The quake and
resulting tsunami killed over 18,500
people, and 488,000
people were temporarily
or permanently displaced
from their homes.
Yes, there was a large
loss of life and many homeless
survivors. However, it was the damage
to the nearby nuclear power plant
that caused the most difficult cleanup
and recovery process. Reactor cooling
pumps failed, ocean water overflowed
barriers and damaged standby power
generators, and extreme radiation
prevented humans from entering
many locations. My article last June
about the unique situations that
created this unmanageable scenario
only touched on a small part of the
The DRC Rules
and Tasks for the
DARPA pretty much drove most
of the competing robots to be bipedal
humanoids for a good reason. Most
humanly built areas that might be in a
disaster area are designed to be used
by two-legged folks. Mobile vehicles,
stairs, doorways, door handles, valve
handles, power switches, handheld
portable power tools, and similar
things are designed around standard
human configurations and
The following eight tasks below
were what these robots faced in the
2015 competition. Each task was
scored as one point:
1. Get in and drive a vehicle over
a short course. The vehicle in
Figure 4 is the same Polaris
Ranger ATV that was used in
the Trials, though the roll-bar
roof was removed to
accommodate the taller robots.
Some robot teams decided to
have their entrants walk the
course rather than drive it.
Figure 6. KAIST’s HUBO at the door on Day 2.
Note the wheels on the knees and feet.
Figure 5. Carnegie Mellon's Warner had to slide
through the door sideways.
Figure 4. Team Trooper’s Atlas driving in the
passenger seat. Photo courtesy of the IEEE Spectrum site.