Thousands of spectators gathered in Los Angeles this weekend to cheer for robots that competed on an obstacle course. As you can see in this video, even watching the humanoids fail is highly entertaining. The event was the culmination of DARPA’s three-year robotics challenge, a project that was inspired by the robots that helped with relief efforts after Fukushima nuclear facility exploded, following Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. With millions of dollars in prizes (and serious bragging rights) at stake, dozens of teams from around the world developed robots that can be used in emergency situations with unsafe conditions for humans, such as nuclear disasters.
At its core, the competition was more of a software and control systems competition than a hardware challenge. The two dozen teams that made it to this weekend’s final round all used the Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot, or the Korean-designed Hubo platform. So while the robots where mechanically very similar (or even the same), performance varied depending on how each team modified the robot with sensors and computing.
To test their abilities, each team had two chances to send their robots had to make their way through a course with eight tasks, such as driving a vehicle, crossing a field of rubble, and then climbing stairs. It was a challenging course, as evidenced by the fact that only three teams successfully completed each task. In the end, the champion was team KAIST from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Their robot was the fastest, finishing all eight tasks in just under 45 minutes. The South Korean team walked away with the $2 million top prize. Team IHMC Robotics took five more minutes to complete the course, which was good enough to earn the second place prize of a mere $1 million. The third place prize wasn’t too shabby either; Carnegie Mellon University’s CHIMP team was awarded $500,000.