Google Robot Wins Pentagon Competition

Completes Fukushima-inspired obstacle course

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 24, 2013 6:13 AM CST

(Newser) – One of Google's recent robotics acquisitions cruised to victory in a Pentagon obstacle course meant to simulate a robot rescue. The Schaft robot, by a Japanese firm Google recently bought, was the top scorer in the eight-task event, held Friday and Saturday, the BBC reports. Coming in second was IHMC Robotics, which used its software to control Atlas, a robot created by Boston Dynamics—another company recently snapped up by Google. The competition, run by Pentagon research arm Darpa, was prompted by concerns that robots "couldn't do anything other than observe" the Fukushima nuclear disaster, says a competition organizer.

"What they needed was a robot to go into that reactor building and shut off the valves," Gill Pratt adds. The BBC lists competitors' tasks. Robots had to:

  • drive a vehicle through a course
  • climb a ladder
  • clear debris
  • open a door using a lever handle
  • make their way over ramps, steps, and blocks
  • drill a triangle into a wall
  • shut air valves using wheels and levers
  • unravel a hose and attach it to a wall
Schaft's winning robot is nearly five feet tall and is powered by a capacitor, not a battery, the BBC notes. It scored 27 out of 32 points, far ahead of IHMC's 20. The New York Times calls its performance "almost flawless," noting the lost points came only because wind blew a door from its clutches and because it couldn't step out of a vehicle after it completed an obstacle course. Eight of the top 16 teams can now access up to $1 million in Darpa funds, ahead of next year's finals, which have a $2 million top prize.

The Schaft robot, by a Japanese firm purchased by Google, won the competition.
The Schaft robot, by a Japanese firm purchased by Google, won the competition.   (YouTube)
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