In Pictures: World-saving robots

These human-like robots could be the first responders to major disasters in the future

  • When disaster strikes… When a deadly earthquake struck Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, the nuclear-contaminated site was not safe for humans to work in. To help respond to disasters like that, the Defense Research Advanced Research Projects Agency began the DAPRA Robotics Challenge in an effort to create humanoid robots, and software to control them, that can act semi-independently in disaster areas using tools designed for humans. This is a photo of Atlas, a robot developed by Boston Dynamics that some teams are using to test their robot controlling software. Meet the other robots that could save the world.

  • CHIMP – The Carnegie Mellon University Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform Being developed by CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center, CHIMP has four limbs, each with rolling tracks on them giving the robot the ability to walk, crawl, climb and drive. Its head and joints have multiple sensors that allow the robot to perceive its surroundings and adapt its motions to traverse uneven terrain.

  • HUBO – Drexel University HUBO is a four-foot all, 41 kg humanoid robot with dexterous hands, a carrying capacity of 10 kg and a one-hour run time on its battery (Read how DARPA is exploring ways to extend battery life for robots by up to 20x). A series of videos on the team’s website shows the robot performing a variety of tasks, including dancing, doing pushups and even throwing the first pitch at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

  • RoboSimian – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory From the organization that brought you the Mars Rover comes RoboSimian, a four-limbed bug-like robot being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in conjunction with Stanford University. The robot is controlled via supervised tele-operation and has multi-point anchoring connections allowing it to scale ladders and railings in addition to walking.

  • Schaft Robot One of the biggest limiting factors of most humanoid robots is their strength. But that’s where Schaft, which is a spinout from the University of Tokyo robotics experts, shines brightest. Its developers have patent-pending technology to create robots that are 10-times stronger than most traditional robots.

  • NASA Johnson Space Center This robot is still somewhat of a mystery as NASA’s Johnson Space Center has provided scant details related to its development. DARPA says the robot is being created by the Robonaut team, which has been developing a humanoid-like robot that’s used for space missions. Earlier iterations of Robonaut were deployed to the International Space Station in 2011.

  • THOR – Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot THOR is being built by the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech, along with partners. The robot has human-like range of motion with the ability to operate untethered. Its software perceives the world through 3D navigation, giving it dexterous manipulation through rugged terrain. This computer-generated rendering of THOR ran in Popular Science magazine.

  • Up to the challenge Each of the robots will compete in a December 2013 trial in which they will have to do a variety of tasks, including driving a vehicle, clearing rubble to enter a door, repairing a gas pipe by attaching a hose and cranking a nozzle, climbing a ladder, and breaking through a wall using a tool designed for humans. Qualifying teams could get up to $1 million each to continue their development for a December 2014 finals in which they do similar tasks and are judged based on timing and ability. A winning team will be rewarded $2 million. This video provides an overview of the entire program, including other teams which are creating software to control robots.

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