I, Robot

Robots may be the next generation of emergency responders, based on the recent DARPA Robotics challenge involving 24 international teams that was held in Pomona on June 6, 2015 over two days.

According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, “Robots will be sent to perform reconnaissance or fix malfunctioning hardware in ravaged areas that are too dangerous for humans. So being able to understand and work with the robot — and practice with it — is key.” The idea for the challenge came from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Due to radiation, emergency responders could not approach close enough nor fast enough to lessen the effects of the disaster.

There is competition between the teams as to whether a humanoid form is more functional than a wheeled or four-limbed robot. “Robots need to be humanoid for disaster relief, because robots need to drive a car, need to climb steps,” UCLA professor Dennis Hong said.

The eight tasks involved dexterity as well as 1/30th of the necessary wireless communication, all to be performed within an hour. The robots have to carry their own heavy batteries, making the humanoid types potentially unstable.

Other challenges for the robot designers included potential lack of wireless communications during disasters. “In a disaster zone, the networks get overloaded. Because of radiation shielding, communication goes down. So it's very hard to directly control a robot when you can only send commands and receive vital information in broken bits and pieces,” according to the LA Times article.

Team KAIST from South Korea won the $2-million prize, beating the other teams in all eight tasks.

The second place for $1 million was taken by Running Man from Team IHMC Robotics in Florida.

CHIMP, the ape-like robot from Carnegie Mellon University, took third place, winning $500,000. It demonstrated that it could pick itself up after falling down.