The world’s most advanced anthropomorphic robots showcased some serious skills at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals over the weekend. But at times, the competition looked more like a sloppy scene outside the pub at closing time. The DRC Finals challenged teams to design and build bots that could complete a difficult course loaded with obstacles relevant to working in a disaster zone, such as walking through rubble, climbing stairs, turning valves and even driving a vehicle. Humans take skills like walking and opening doors for granted, but these robots proved that even the simplest tasks could be embarrassingly difficult when you’re made of metal.
May the Best Bot Win
It’s easy to laugh at these poor robots as they struggle to open doors or step out of a vehicle, but it took years of research and development for teams to prepare their robots for the big time. The DRC was launched back in 2011 following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. After that experience, it became clear that dexterous robots could, and should, aid rescue workers in dangerous scenes of destruction. Since then, the increasingly difficult competitions have pushed engineers to their limits in order to accelerate the progress in robotics. This year, 23 teams from around the world — 12 from the U.S. — competed for cash prizes. After eight brutal stages packed with epic triumphs and fails, Team Kaist of South Korea took home the top prize and $2 million. Their robot, DRC-Hubo, completed all eight challenges in under 45 minutes — more than five minutes faster than IHMC Robotics, the second-place team from Florida. In the video below, Hubo nails the driving challenge:
And here’s Hubo getting out of the same vehicle:
Congratulations to Hubo and Team Kaist, and we hope the rest of the runners-up remember that it's not how many times you fall, but whether you pick yourself back up, that matters.