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ATLAS DRC Robot Is 75 Percent New, Completely Unplugged

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals will have an upgraded robot and a $2 million top prize

3 min read
ATLAS DRC Robot Is 75 Percent New, Completely Unplugged
The DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals will feature an upgraded ATLAS humanoid robot and a US $2 million prize for the winner.
Photo: DARPA

We’ve always known that the ATLAS DRC humanoid robot was due for some serious upgrades before the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, because having a robot that’s tethered for power and safety is just not in the spirit of what the DRC is all about: moving towards robotic systems that can provide meaningful assistance during a real-world disaster scenario.

Back in November, we started hearing that DRC Track B teams were sending their ATLAS robots back to Google-owned Boston Dynamics for some tweaks, and today, DARPA has posted a video of the brand new ATLAS. And it really is almost entirely brand new.

Here’s what we’re looking at in terms of new hardware, according to DARPA:

The most significant changes are to the robot’s power supply and pump. Atlas will now carry an onboard 3.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, with the potential for one hour of “mixed mission” operation that includes walking, standing, use of tools, and other movements. This will drive a new variable-pressure pump that allows for more efficient operation. 

“The introduction of a battery and variable-pressure pump into Atlas poses a strategic challenge for teams,” said [DRC Program Manager Gill] Pratt. “The operator will be able to run the robot on a mid-pressure setting for most operations to save power, and then apply bursts of maximum pressure when additional force is needed. The teams are going to have to game out the right balance of force and battery life to complete the course.”

img“Get this safety tether off me!”Photo: DARPA

Annnnd there’s a lot more:

  • The upgraded Atlas is 75 percent new—only the lower legs and feet were carried over from the original design.
  • Lighter materials allowed for inclusion of a battery and a new pump system with only a modest increase in overall weight; the upgraded robot is 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and weighs 345 pounds (156.5 kg).
  • Repositioned shoulders and arms allow for increased workspace in front of the robot and let the robot view its hands in motion, thus providing additional sensor feedback to the operator.
  • New electrically actuated lower arms will increase strength and dexterity and improve force sensing.
  • The addition of an extra degree of freedom in the wrist means the robot will be able to turn a door handle simply by rotating its wrist as opposed to moving its entire arm.
  • Three onboard perception computers are used for perception and task planning, and a wireless router in the head enables untethered communication.
  • Re-sized actuators in the hip, knee, and back give the robot greater strength.
  • A wireless emergency stop allows for safe operation.
  • As a result of the new pump, Atlas is much, much quieter than before!
  • Teams should have their new robots to play with by the end of January.

DARPA also announced some additional info on the DRC Finals this June. You can read the full release here, but we’ve bulleted the good stuff for you:

  • There’s a new prize structure: the first place team gets $2 million, followed by $1 million for second place, and $500,000 for third.
  • DARPA expects to see 20 teams at the finals. Registration and qualification materials for new teams are due February 2, and we’ll get a final roster of qualified teams in early March.

That’s the meat of today’s announcement. We’re hoping to be able to follow up with DARPA for extra details, but at this point, what we’re really looking forward to seeing is the first team with enough confidence in their robot and software to post a video of an unthered ATLAS falling on its face and then getting back up again.

[ DRC ] via [ DARPA ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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