YES! IT'S STARTING! The DARPA Robotics Challenge is mere months (four months) away, and we're now beginning to get some early looks at progress on those spectacular Track A robots. This is RoboSimian, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, starting to experiment with hands developed at Stanford.
RoboSimian isn't finished yet, but that's part of what's exciting here. We've been looking forward to seeing videos of the Track A teams developing and testing their hardware prior to the Challenge in December. JPL is particularly interesting because they've decided not to build a humanoid, like most of the rest of the Track A teams. Instead, RoboSimian is more of, well, a simian, a term used most often to refer to apes, although technically we humans are simians too.
In particular, RoboSimian will use its four general purpose limbs and hands, capable of both mobility and manipulation, to achieve passively stable stances; create multi-point anchored connections to supports such as ladders, railings, and stair treads; and brace itself during forceful manipulation operations.
It looks like RoboSimian is going to have no trouble with ladder climbing or manipulation, and if it ends up walking around on four legs instead of two, that could significantly simplify some of the walking challenges. So the question is, what disadvantages does a form like this have over a more traditional humanoid robot, if any? We may have to wait until the end of the year to find out, but in the mean time, we're very much looking forward to more videos like these from all of the DRC teams.
[ JPL ]
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.