The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Robotics Challenge has significantly advanced the field of humanoid robotics thanks to contributions from academia, including the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), whose team finished in the top third of the challenge's competitors. Moreover, participants say their work has inspired them to be better researchers and educators, especially as they focus on future robotics applications.
The challenge's objective was to encourage researchers to build more autonomous, more balanced, and more capable robots that can eventually be dispatched to disaster situations to turn off disabled systems, search for victims, and assess damage. The finals called on each team's robot to execute eight tasks, such as driving a car, opening a door, turning a valve, or walking over a pile of rubble — all within 60 minutes. WPI professor Taskin Padir says the competition was a good showcase of humanoid robots' potential in disaster scenarios, as tasks such as climbing ladders and stairs, and maneuvering through narrow crossings, are well-suited for humanoid forms.
One former WPI team member now working on four-legged robots at the Italian Institute of Technology says the DARPA contest gave him experience developing algorithms to help robots cross rough terrain. The WPI team's project manager, Matt DeDonato, also notes his current work with a defense contractor to build military robots is informed by his participation in the Robotics Challenge.
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