After the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials ended last December and Team SCHAFT emerged victorious, there was a rumor going around that Google, which had acquired SCHAFT just months earlier, wasn't going to allow the team to remain in the competition. Some observers speculated that Google was apparently reluctant to accept funding from DARPA and establish ties with the U.S. military (DARPA is an agency of the Department of Defense). Today, DARPA announced that, contrary to the rumor, SCHAFT is staying in the DRC.
But it turns out that the rumor wasn't completely unfounded: According to the announcement, SCHAFT will be turning down additional DARPA financial support by switching from Track A (which encompasses DARPA-funded teams) to Track D (the group that includes self-funded teams). This in turn will give other DRC teams an opportunity to get funded and participate in the DRC Finals.
SCHAFT (and by extension, Google) has told DARPA that they're quite happy to switch to Track D and fund themselves, declining the US $1 million they were eligible to receive as a top eight finisher in the DRC Trials. There are three next-highest scoring teams, all tied for ninth place with eight points each: Team THOR, Team ViGIR, and Team KAIST. Rather than rely on a tie-breaker from the DRC Trials, it looks like KAIST has decided that it can fund itself (as part of Track D, it was self-funded to begin with), meaning that THOR and ViGIR will each get $500,000.
What's more, Team THOR is going to split into two separate teams, one based at Virginia Tech, and the other based at UCLA, the new home of team leader and roboticist extraordinaire Dennis Hong. So really, we're looking at three extra teams to receive DARPA money and compete in the finals.
We should also point out that Track D is still open to new entrants. In fact, a DARPA spokesman tells us that it is actively working to attract more Track D teams, including teams from outside the United States. DARPA has yet to set a registration deadline, so in the mean time "new teams are welcome to join," he says.
DARPA also announced today that they're planning on holding the finals sometime between December 2014 and June of 2015. Not very specific, but we're guessing that the qualifying event that DARPA has mentioned will help them determine how much extra time teams might need to get ready for the final DRC event, which is going to be epic.
[ DARPA ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.