Atkeson Leads DARPA Grand Challenge Team-Quality of Life Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, October 29, 2012

Atkeson Leads DARPA Grand Challenge Team

Chris Atkeson, Team Steel
Chris Atkeson, Team Steel

Christopher Atkeson, professor in the Robotics Institute and Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, has recevied funding to lead "Team Steel" in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge, a competition in which robots will perform complex, physically challenging tasks as they respond to disaster scenarios in human-engineered environments, such as nuclear power plants.


The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is a way to inspire innovations that would make ground robots more capable of intervening in high-risk situations.  DARPA announced the Robotics Challenge last spring as part of its response to the federal government's National Robotics Initiative.  A software "virtual" competition is planned for June 2013, followed by live hardware challenges in December 2013 and December 2014.  The ultimate winning team will receive a prize of $2 million.


Atkeson's Team Steel is among 11 teams selected for Track B. As such, it will initially receive $375,000.  Depending on its performance in the competitions, Team Steel may later qualify for $750,000 and $1 million allotments.  Following the virtual competition, select Track B teams may also qualify to receive a DARPA-provided humanoid Atlas robot developed by Boston Dynamics for use in the live competitions.


Team Steel will compete by developing simulation software for humanoid robots that can drive, walk through debris, and do repairs in high-risk or disaster scenarios.


"CMU's strength in this competition is that we have always taken seriously the idea that we need to make robots that do things in the real world," said Atkeson, leader of QoLT's Mobility and Manipulation Research Thrust (MOMAT), which focuses on improving the safety and control of robots used for human physical assitance.  Research at the Quality of Life Technology Center is concerned with making intelligent systems that can integrate optimally with real world human environments and everyday living.


"One of DARPA's goals for the challenge is to catalyze robotics development across all fields so that we as a community end up with more capable, more affordable robots that are easier to operate," said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager for the Robotics Challenge.


Companies and other donors can contribute to Team Steel.  In return for funding, companies receive favorable access to intellectual property and promotion and public relations exposure.


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