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DARPA Robotics Challenge: Amazing Moments, Lessons Learned, and What's Next

The DARPA Robotics Challenge is over. It will certainly be remembered as one of the defining robotics competitions of the decade—full of drama, hardship, and inspiration. We brought you as much of it as we could, including a detailed look at the winning robot, a fun compilation of robots falling, and our impressions of the first day of the competition. And we still have a lot more to come! But for now, to cap it all off, here are things that stood out to us about the final day of the DRC Finals, and a hint of what to look forward to in the future.

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How South Korea's DRC-HUBO Robot Won the DARPA Robotics Challenge

On Saturday, Team KAIST from South Korea emerged as the winner of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) in Pomona, Calif., after its robot, an adaptable humanoid called DRC-HUBO, beat out 22 other robots from five different countries, winning the US $2 million grand prize. The robot’s “transformer” ability to switch back and forth from a walking biped to a wheeled machine proved key to its victory. Many robots lost their balance and collapsed to the ground while trying to perform tasks such as opening a door or operating a drill. Not DRC-HUBO. Its unique design allowed it to perform tasks faster and, perhaps more important, stay on its feet—and wheels.

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Team KAIST Wins DARPA Robotics Challenge

It was a nail-biting final round as the top teams of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals tried to catch up with Team KAIST, which earlier today had completed a perfect run, scoring the maximum 8 points in 44:28 minutes. Two teams also scored 8 points, but Team KAIST, from South Korea, had the best time, winning the top spot and the US $2 million grand prize.

KAIST’s robot, called DRC-HUBO, was a bipedal humanoid. But unlike other humanoids, such as the ATLAS robot used by several other teams, DRC-HUBO had modifications, including wheels on its knees, that allowed it to perform tasks faster and, perhaps more importantly, avoid falls. (Read our in-depth article on how DRC-HUBO helped Team KAIST take first place in the competition.)

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals: What We Learned on Day 1

We’ve been looking forward to the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals for years. The DRC Trials in December of 2013 showed us how much potential disaster robots had, and yesterday and today, those robots are competing against each other to prove their utility in hardware and software in a mock disaster scenario.

Hopefully, you’ve been following our posts and social media coverage. If not, a good place to get started is this post about the robots and this post about the course, and we’re tweeting like mad from @AutomatonBlog and @BotJunkie. DARPA is streaming everything they can, so you should tune in to catch a little bit of the action.

All kinds of amazing things happened yesterday, so in pictures and commentary, just before we start with Day 2 of the Finals, we’re going to take you through everything we learned on Day 1.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge: A Compilation of Robots Falling Down

On Thursday, the day before the competition was to officially start, DARPA allowed the teams to conduct a dress rehearsal, putting their robots through the course to see how they’d do. During that dry run, not many robots fell over, so we went into Day 1 of the Finals thinking that falls would be rare. They weren’t. Lots of robots fell over, and a bunch of robots fell over multiple times. As much as nobody wanted to see a robot fall, everybody wanted to see a robot fall, and the possibility of falls (and reality of falls) kept everyone watching on the edge of our seats.

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DRC Finals: CMU’s CHIMP Gets Up After Fall, Shows How Awesome Robots Can Be

The first day of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals was spectacular. We’re going to have lots more for you tonight and tomorrow, but we wanted to get you this video right away. A bunch of robots fell during runs today, and in every case, humans rushed in with a gantry and hoisted the robot back up again. This is what the rules allow, but the spirit of the competition is really looking for robots that can operate independently in disaster areas without human assistance. We’re likely to see more attempts at robots getting themselves up tomorrow (as it’s the last competition day and there isn’t as much to lose), but during today’s run, CMU’s CHIMP robot showed everybody what a resilient disaster robot should be able to do. And it was amazing.

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How to Watch the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals Online

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals kick off today with an opening ceremony at 7 a.m. PDT. The actual competition starts right after that at 8 a.m. Four teams will run their robots on four separate courses simultaneously. It’s going to be crazy, and you definitely want to drop whatever it is that you’re doing and watch what promises to be the most amazing robotics event ever. DARPA has lots of cameras around, so here’s how you can watch the event online:

Live Streaming:

Go to the DRC website—on the home page DARPA offers five feeds: the Main Event and four separate feeds, one for each course.    

A live streaming service called CuriosityStream will also have live feeds and some exclusive behind the scenes content.

The DRC App:

The DRC app on iTunes or Android store doesn’t offer a live stream, but it has the full schedule of the competition and an updated score board.

Follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and check back on the blog for a long highlights post at the end of the day.

Welcome to the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals

We’ve just arrived at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals in Pomona, Calif. It’s the day before the Finals starts, and the Expo is setting up, teams are testing robots, and DARPA is making sure that the courses are ready to go. We’ll have a detailed post on the rules and course this evening, but the first thing we did was snap the pic above to give you a look at what it’s going to be like. Our first reaction? The overall course is shorter than we expected, and only as challenging as it needs to be: robots will have a real chance at getting through these tasks successfully, and that’s awesome.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals: Know Your Robots

With 24 teams competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, it’s easy to lose track of things. Which team has the white ATLAS that is not IHMC or WPI-CMU? How many teams are from Germany? What’s the name of that Japanese robot that looks like a spaghetti of wires?

Confused already? Don’t worry, here’s something we made with our bare hands to make your life (and ours) easier: All of the DRC teams and their robots—along with some helpful specs—in one single handy poster-size image. Print it, read it, memorize it and you’ll be ready to watch the Finals.

The actual competition will happen on Friday and Saturday, but Evan and I will be posting stories and videos starting tomorrow (Thursday). Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates, and if you’re coming to Pomona, we’ll see you there!

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
Jason Falconer
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

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