Feeds

DARPA boffins seek Terminator-style disaster-zone rescue robot

Car-driving, tool-using tsunami-surviving android needed

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The Pentagon's brash boffinry bureau DARPA is offering millions in research funding to any robot-builders who can come up with a machine capable of dealing with disasters like nuclear meltdowns and tsunamis.

Robots breaking down walls and fixing leaky pipes

Robots breaking down walls and fixing leaky pipes. Credit: DARPA

The DARPA Robotics Challenge wants tech firms to build a disaster response robot that can operate in "human-engineered" spaces, like buildings and cities, and it is ready to fork out up to $34m (£21.4) to get a good one.

DARPA explained in the competition prospectus:

The Department of Defense strategic plan calls for the Joint Force to conduct humanitarian, disaster relief, and other operations. The strategic plan identifies needs for extending aid to victims of natural or manmade disasters and for conducting evacuation operations.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge programme will help directly meet these needs by developing robotic technology for disaster response operations. This technology will improve the performance of robots that operate in the rough terrain and austere conditions characteristic of disasters, and use vehicles and tools commonly available in populated areas.

The defence agency is particularly targeting the sort of catastrophes where it's difficult for people to help safely, such as the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Some of the funds will be given on the strength of proposals from prospective robot-makers who don't have the readies to get started and the rest will be handed out over the various stages of the competition, leaving the winning team with a prize pot of $2m.

The robots will have to complete a number of tasks to prove they're capable of dealing with disaster, firstly in a virtual simulation and then in two different physical phases.

The misfortune-mending machines will have to complete a number of fine motor skills that show they can interact with human tools, transport and buildings that they might meet in a disaster zone.

They will need to drive an ordinary utility vehicle, walk/roll/travel across some rubble, move debris out of a doorway, open the door and go into an industrial building, climb a ladder and cross a catwalk, break through a concrete panel with some sort of tool, find a leaking pipe and close the valve, and replace a cooling pump.

The assisting androids don't need to be humanoid in shape, but they do need a certain amount of autonomy, because DARPA will be messing with communication between the robots and their operators as part of the challenge, since emergency situations don't usually come with good WiFi.

The government boffins also want the robots to be pretty easy for non-robotic-experts to use, since their likely operators would be emergency services rather than tech guys:

The program aims to advance the key robotic technologies of supervised autonomy, mounted mobility, dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength, and platform endurance. Supervised autonomy will be developed to allow robot control by non-expert operators, to lower operator workload, and to allow effective operation despite low fidelity (low bandwidth, high latency, intermittent) communications.

Prospective automaton-assemblers need to submit proposals by the end of May and the challenge will take place over the 28 months after that.

You can read the full competition prospectus here (774KB PDF). ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
HUGE SHARK as big as a WWII SUBMARINE died out, allowing whales to exist
Who'd win a fight: Megalodon or a German battleship?
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.