Maybe not sci-fi, but robots readied for big tests

Last Updated: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 02:31

Pennsauken (New Jersey): The real world has not caught up yet with "Star Wars" and its talking, thinking robots, but some of the most sophisticated units that exist are heading to Florida this week for a Defense Department-sponsored competition.

Seventeen humanoid robots will be evaluated Friday and Saturday at Homestead Miami Speedway for how well they can complete tasks including getting into an all-terrain vehicle and driving it and opening doors.

It`s all stuff people can do. But the mission for the teams in the competition is to make robots that could function in disaster zones where the conditions could be threatening to humans.

It`s advanced but not science-fiction. The robots, which move far slower than humans, are controlled by people telling them what action to take.
The top bots will move into the finals next year. The winning team gets USD 2 million as part of a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The entry by defense contractor Lockheed Martin`s Advanced Technology Laboratories, made with help from students at the University of Pennsylvania and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, has been tested in an industrial park in Pennsauken, New Jersey.

The labs did well enough in the virtual version of the competition this year to be supplied a prebuilt robot and allowed to continue to this month`s round of the DARPA challenge.

With the machine already built, Lockheed`s team was responsible for the software.

"We want the system to be intuitive to untrained operators," said Bill Borgia, the director of Lockheed`s intelligent robotics laboratory.
During a practice session last week, an engineer used a joystick and a computer mouse to tell the 1.8-meter tall, 135-kilogram robot where and how to move as it picked up pieces of rubble.

PTI

First Published: Monday, December 16, 2013 - 02:31
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