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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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WALK-MAN Team Built Brand New, Highly Custom Robot for DRC Finals

While some DRC teams received fancy ATLAS robots from DARPA and other teams decided to adapt existing platforms (HUBO and HRP-2, for example) to compete in the Finals, some groups set out to build completely new robots. One of these is Team WALK-MAN from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), whose most recent robotic creations include HyQ and COMAN. Before departing to the DRC Finals site in Pomona, Calif., Nikos Tsagarakis, a senior researcher at IIT and WALK-MAN Project Coordinator, spoke with us about his team’s highly customized robot, its mains capabilities, and how it compares to ATLAS.

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Pre-DRC Finals Video Post: What to Expect from the World's Most Sophisticated Robots

We’ve been collecting DARPA Robotics Challenge-related videos for the last several months, and this post is an attempt to put a bunch of them together in a way that showcases the current state of the robots of the DRC Finals just before the competition starts. Looking through these will show you how capable many of the teams are right now (or within a few weeks or so), providing a metric for where your expectations should be for the competition itself. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But as you watch, these videos will give you an idea of what’s fast, what’s slow, what robots seem to be doing well, and what robots seem to be doing amazing.

Note that these videos are at least a week or two out of date, and they’re totally biased towards teams that have been, you know, actually posting videos on YouTube, so there might be robots that are doing equally well but you won’t see them here. Nonetheless, this is the best cross-section of pre-event capabilites we’ve got, and it should give you a pretty good sense of what to expect when the Finals kick off on Friday. 

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Lockheed Martin's Team TROOPER Sets Expectations for DRC Finals

With the DRC Finals kicking off this week, competing teams have been practicing hard to get their robots ready for competition. A few weeks ago, we visited Team TROOPER at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories (or more accurately, a nameless and windowless building in an office park somewhere near Philadelphia) to see how they’ve been preparing for the DRC Finals, and what we came back with should give you a good sense of what to expect.

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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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