Google-owned robot triumphs in test of bots' driving, walking and climbing

Summary:A humanoid robot owned by Google outperformed the competition in trials designed to test robots' ability to drive, climb ladders, walk over rough terrain and other tasks that could be useful when responding to a disaster.

A Google-owned humanoid robot has triumphed in a competition designed to test a robot's ability to drive, climb ladders, walk on rough terrain and perform other tasks usually carried out by people.

The Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC) trials, which took place on Friday and Saturday, gauged how well robots could "semi-autonomously" perform eight tasks that would be useful when responding to disasters. The tests were based on tasks that needed to be carried out to vent hydrogen from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant after it was struck by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The DRC tested how well robots performed when driving and exiting a vehicle under the direction of a human operator, walking across rough terrain, removing debris from doorways, opening doors, climbing ladders, cutting through walls using power tools, connecting a fire hose and locating and closing leaking valves.

The robot that scored most highly in the tests was built by Japanese firm Schaft, one of several robotics companies recently bought by Google . The bot is a bipedal robot standing at 1480mm tall and based on an "intelligent robot kernel" that combines " the necessary software modules for recognition, planning, motion generation, motion control and a user interface", according to Schaft.

Reports from the event described the Schaft robot as showcasing advances in robot mobility, claiming the "machine practically hopped over the rough terrain course", in contrast to the more usual halting gait of humanoid bots.

Below you can see the Schaft bot driving, climbing ladders and navigating rough terrain as the team prepares for the event.

However, in general, robots' capabilities are still below what is needed to take over from humans in many of the tasks carried out during the DRC.

"We know the robots are slow and unsteady at this point—they're much like a one-year-old human in terms of locomotion and grasping abilities and much farther behind that in brainpower,” Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager said in a statement before the event.

The 16 teams participating in the DRC Trials represented a mix of government, academic and commercial backgrounds. They travelled from across the United States, as well as from South Korea and Japan.

The eight teams with the highest scores received Darpa funding to prepare for the DRC finals, which are scheduled for late 2014.

The DRC Trials took place alongside a robot technology showcase, where there were demonstrations of Darpa’s "Wild Cat", an untethered all-terrain version of Boston Dynamics "Cheetah" robot, the Legged Squad Support System and the Warrior Web programme.

Topics: Hardware

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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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