Ninety days from now, 25 humanoid robots will converge on Pomona, California. There they will compete for 3.5 million dollars in prizes for their human designers. These walking, driving, and manipulating automatons will be the closest to Chappie we’ve ever come.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) has just settled on the 25 teams from around the world that will be challenging themselves inside a simulated disaster zone for a grand prize and robotic bragging rights.
This challenge won’t be anything like high-school robotics class. Strung together in a single “mission,” multiple robots will be put on the course at a time to “start in a vehicle, drive to a simulated disaster building, and then they’ll have to open doors, walk on rubble, and use tools,” IEEE reports. If that sounds intense, it is. At least the robots look the part, that is to say, pretty much like Chappie.
Maybe the bigger task to manage, however, is that the robots competing in the DRC will basically be on their own. There won’t be any tethers or umbilical cords to supply the competitors with power or data. That immediately changes the design of any robot — being light while having to carry your own power source is a serious design constraint.
The image you may have in your mind is some slow-moving, bumbling, and stumbling (yet sleek) humanoid. Slow-moving these modern bots might be, but bumbling they are not. Modern robotics has become incredibly advanced, especially when it comes to balance and coordination. You can full-on kick a robot dog without it falling over for Asimov‘s sake!
So if one of these DRC competitors falls on its “face” when completing the final part of the disaster run — ascending some stairs to find a “secret” final task — it will be on its own to right itself.
Seeing as all the 25 teams made it to the DRC finals by filming their robots opening a valve, walking or driving at least 10 meters, and scaling a barrier, this June we are in for some incredible Chappie-worthy footage. Hopefully.
IMAGES: Sony Pictures; DARPA