A Japanese robot called “SCHAFT” beat all other competitors in the latest DARPA robotics challenge trials. This contest is the olympics of robotics. Contestants are supposed to do 8 tasks. These tasks can range from clearing debris, driving a car, and other tasks. Here, the DARPA olympics set up tasks like walking across rough terrain, removing debris, opening a series of doors, climbing an industrial ladder, cutting through a wall, carrying and connecting a fire hose, locating and closing leaking valves and driving a utility vehicle, to mimic certain basic human actions. If your robot is able to do all these, then you have the ground work that is needed to come up with a robot that can handle a very specialized tasks. Moreover, you also have the ground work for comprehensive robot that can provide serious rescue services in the future.
Be that as it may, watching the robot olympics can be quite boring. Why? The contestants would often slow down. They might fumble. Some would even fall over. Many times the contestant robots would just stop for several minutes. As frustrating as it may be to be an initiated observer, the fact that these robots are even able to carry and connect the firehose for example or open a series of doors is amazing enough in itself. Remember these aren’t humans. They don’t have human joints. They don’t have human eyes. These are all computer driven and operate through computer perception. This is what makes the Japanese team’s victory even more stunning. They won by 27 points out of a possible 32 points. Their closest competitor is left in the dust. The second place competitor IHMC Robotics scored a measly 20 points. Make no mistake about it, you are probably be hearing more about SCHAFT in the future.
Regardless, the winners of the contest will get financing for future development. This is one place where the government should spend research money because this is money well spent. While these robots might look clunky now, a highly refined and configured robot in the future might be able to save you life. Seriously.
UPDATE: SCHAFT was recently acquired by Google.