The Department of Defense’s strategic plan calls for the Joint Force to conduct humanitarian, disaster relief and related operations. The plan identifies requirements to extend aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters and conduct evacuation operations. Some disasters, however, due to grave risks to the health and wellbeing of rescue and aid workers, prove too great in scale or scope for timely and effective human response. The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) will attempt to address this capability gap by promoting innovation in robotic technology for disaster-response operations.
The primary technical goal of the DRC is to develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. Competitors in the DRC are expected to focus on robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.
To achieve its goal, the DRC aims to advance the current state of the art in the enabling technologies of supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength, and platform endurance. Success with supervised autonomy, in particular, could allow control of robots by non-expert operators, lower the operator’s workload, and allow effective operation even with low-fidelity (low bandwidth, high latency, intermittent) communications.
The DRC consists of both robotics hardware and software development tasks and is structured to increase the diversity of innovative solutions by encouraging participation from around the world, including universities, small, medium and large businesses, and even individuals and groups with ideas on how to advance the field of robotics. Detailed descriptions of the participant tracks are available in the DRC Broad Agency Announcement.
A secondary goal of the DRC is to make software and hardware development for ground-robot systems more accessible to interested contributors, thereby lowering the cost of acquisition while increasing capabilities. DARPA seeks to accomplish this by creating and providing government-furnished equipment (GFE) to some DRC participants in the form of a robotic hardware platform with arms, legs, torso and head. Availability of this platform will allow teams without hardware expertise or hardware to participate. Additionally, all teams will have access to a government-furnished simulator created by DARPA and populated with models of robots, robot components and field environments. The simulator will be an open-source, real-time, operator-interactive virtual test bed, and the accuracy of the models used in it will be rigorously validated on a physical test bed. DARPA hopes the creation of a widely available, validated, affordable, and community supported and enhanced virtual test environment will play a catalytic role in development of robotics technology, allowing new hardware and software designs to be evaluated without the need for physical prototyping.
The DRC Broad Agency Announcement was released on April 10, 2012.
The DRC kicked off on October 24, 2012, and is scheduled to run for approximately 27 months with three planned competitions, one virtual followed by two live. Events are planned for June 2013, December 2013 and December 2014.
Additional details, including team information and event rules, are available at http://www.theroboticschallenge.org.