The DARPA Robotics Challenge

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) developed the DARPA Robotics Challenge to discover new ideas and concepts for ground-based semi-autonomous robots tasked with saving lives while operating in extremely dangerous and complex disaster zones, whether natural or man-made. Importantly, the robots competing in the challenge could only use tools and equipment commonly found in human environments, such as standard hand tools and vehicles.

Twenty six teams from eight countries participated in the three-phase challenge, which consisted of the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC), DRC Trials, and then the DRC Finals. The VRC kicked off with teams developing software platforms to control a virtual robot competing a range of complex tasks. Teams were evaluated on overall robot perception, manipulation, and locomotion. Team ViGIR and six other top-performing teams earned additional funding when they were selected to compete in the DRC Trials with their software integrated into one of seven identical Atlas robots. Additional DARPA-funded teams and five self-funded teams were also approved to compete in the DRC Trials, for a total of eighteen teams.

Team ViGIR completed the DRC Trials in the top 50%, earning a spot in the two-day DRC Finals and additional funding. The DRC Finals was the toughest challenge yet, requiring teams to solve extremely challenging problems in a disaster scenario with very little information prior to the start of competition. These challenges included having the robot drive a utility vehicle, safely moving debris, opening doors, and finding a closing a valve.

Team ViGIR earned three points on day one of the competition, successfully overcoming a range of challenges to complete the driving course, door challenge, and valve-closing challenge. Day two of the competition brought significant difficulties, including a hardware failure when Florian’s right arm failed and overheating issues in the strong California heat.

Because of these challenges and others, ultimately Team ViGIR placed 16th out of the elite group of teams competing in the DRC Finals, with an overall time of 48:49. But the competition was about more than winning: the goal was to expand the boundaries of robotics capabilities and develop new ways to save lives. Together, Team ViGIR and all of the teams competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge have pushed us further along the road towards highly advanced robots that are capable of jumping into the harshest environments to save human life.

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