DARPA has just launched its Robotics Challenge with the participation of researchers from BGU, the only foreign university chosen to lead a team on Track B, which will develop control software for the robot.
“Natural and man-made disasters have caused suffering for people around the world, in past ages, today, and surely tomorrow. The devastation of disasters such as Fukushima, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Chilean Copiapó mine collapse all serve to highlight our fragility in the presence of unforeseen events. Often, subject matter experts are available with the knowledge to prevent further damage, yet are unable to get close enough to complete their mission – be it from nuclear contamination, intense pressure, structural instability, or many other threats to human safety. Our best robotic tools are helping, but they are not yet robust enough to function in all environments and perform the basic tasks needed to mitigate a crisis situation. Even in degraded post-disaster situations, the environment is scaled to the human world, requiring navigation of human obstacles such as doors and stairs, manipulation of human objects such as vehicles and power tools, and recognition of common human objects such as levers and valves,” according to the challenge’s website.
“The DARPA Robotics Challenge program,” DARPA explains, “will help directly meet these needs by developing robotic technology for disaster response operations. This technology will improve the performance of robots that operate in the rough terrain and austere conditions characteristic of disasters, and use vehicles and tools commonly available in populated areas. This technology will also work in ways easily understood by subject matter experts untrained in the operation of robots, and be governed by intuitive controls that require little training.”
BGU will lead Robil, the only foreign team accepted to participate in the six month challenge on Track B – designing control software for the robot. BGU was awarded $375,000 to develop the software.
The software will control the GFE Platform being developed by Boston Dynamics, Inc., based on its Atlas humanoid robot platform and modified to meet the needs of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
“Robil’s team is an ad-hoc consortium led by BGU comprised of the leaders of the Israeli robotics industry (IAI and Cogniteam) and academia (BGU, Bar-Ilan University, Technion - Israeli Institute of Technology). It includes 20 key personnel and over 40 graduate students and engineers,” says Robil team leader Prof. Hugo Guterman of BGU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.