South Korea’s Team Kaist has won the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). The $2,000,000 prize is exciting, but it might not cover the team’s costs. The real money comes from sales of technological advances that can be applied in industrial or other real-world situations.
The DRC was developed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, when the danger of the situation made it very difficult for human beings to do the things that needed to be done to cope with the disaster. Robots are the ideal solution.
So the robot competitors of the DRC are called upon to make their way through an obstacle course with eight challenges that might arise during a natural disaster. Robots were called upon to drill holes in a wall, open a door, get through an area crowded with debris, and various other tasks. Teams were prepared for the obstacles course and the initial challenges, and had built their robots to handle them.
Each day there was also a surprise challenge, such as plugging or unplugging an electric cord. These were new problem solving challenges for the teams, for which they couldn’t prepare.
The entire course had to be finished in less than an hour. The South Korean robot made it through the obstacle course successfully in 45 minutes. Only two other robots completed the challenge: second place Team IHMC Robotics with the Atlas robot, and third place Team Tartan Rescue of Carnegie Mellon. The other teams had problems with the challenges, or their robots fell down too often to meet the deadline.
Spectators cheered for the robots and groaned when they fell, just as they would have for human sporting events.