NASA Team Passes 1st Stage in Military Robotics Challenge

By sending a virtual robot crab-walking through a simulated disaster zone, a NASA team has cleared the first phase of DARPA's Robotics Challenge, winning funding as well as a real humanoid robot to compete in the next round later this year. Through the contest, the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, hopes to make more resilient robots that could replace human responders in disaster situations, such as the aftermath of an earthquake or nuclear accident.

A total of 26 teams from eight countries qualified to compete in the initial, virtual challenge, which took place from June 17 to 21. These groups had to use their own software to maneuver a simulated robot through a virtual obstacle course and complete tasks like climbing into and driving a vehicle, walking over uneven ground, trudging through mud, and attaching a fire hose to a pipe and turning a valve.

Apparently, remaining upright was not one of the requirements to advance to the next level. Roboticists from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), who teamed up with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), explained how they got through the competition in a video. Their robot spent a lot of time scooting around on its bottom, crab-walking backwards through mud and forward over hills and around bricks when standing was deemed unsafe.

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