Europe Gears Up for Land, Air, and Sea Robotics Competition

Photo: euRathlon

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Piombino, a small, scenic port town in Tuscany, Italy, is preparing for a robot invasion this week. More than 40 robots and 150 scientists and engineers are gathering here to compete in the euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima accident, the euRathlon is a unique multi-domain (land, air, and sea) robotics competition that will feature teams from 21 countries and test their cooperative robotic systems in complex, realistic tasks as part of a simulated emergency-response operation.

The goal of the euRathlon challenge is encouraging collaboration and research in robotics, with a focus on emergency response, as well as developing methods of assessing robot performance through an open benchmarking process. The 2015 challenge will run from 17 to 25 September, and the main event will consist of a robotics competition taking place near a thermal power plant in Piombino. Ground, marine, and aerial robots will have to work together to perform a range of tasks in a simulated disaster zone, collecting environmental data, identifying critical hazards, and searching for missing workers and dangerous leaks.

The challenge will start with three days of practice when teams can assemble and prepare their robots. Next, separate trials in land, air, or sea will allow the teams to test the robots in each of those environments. There will also be two-domain challenges for land and sea, sea and air, and air and land, used to assess the collaborative behaviors of the teams. Finally, in the last two days, aerial, marine, and land robots will compete in a Grand Challenge event.

euRathlon will also include additional events in the downtown area of Piombino and at the Torre del Sale site. On 23 September, two advanced humanoid robots will give a demonstration of search and rescue in disaster response scenarios: WALK-MAN, a robot developed by the Italian Institute of Technology, and DRC-HUBO, developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The South Korean team is the winner of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, which took place earlier this year, and this demonstration will be its first appearance in Europe. Both robots will perform some of the tasks from the DRC Finals.

In another demonstration, the BioRobotics Institute of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, in Pisa, will show the capabilities of a new service robot called Robot-Era, designed as a personal assistant. Professor Paolo Dario, from the Sant’Anna School, is one of the robotics experts speaking at the event. Other speakers include Professor Andrea Caiti, from University of Pisa’s Bioengineering and Robotics Research Center; Professor Alan Winfield, from the University of the West of England and the euRathlon project coordinator; and Dr. Anne Bajart, project officer from the European Commission.

The euRathlon challenge is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme consortium, and the 2015 edition is organized by the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, part of the NATO Science and Technology Organization, along with the Piombino Municipality and ENEL. All events will be open to the public.

Fausto Ferreira, a scientist at NATO Science and Technology Organization’s Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, in La Spezia, Italy, is deputy technical director of the euRathlon 2015.

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