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Robots for Relief: Disaster Robot Challenge

With Sandy upon the U.S. Eastern coast, DARPA’s “Robotics Challenge” could not come fast enough. As NPR reports, robots were used after Fukushima, but the need for robots anyone can use and especially for disaster operations is high. The contest will be a “junkyard-wars-style competition next year. The robots will have to open a blocked door, operate a valve, climb a ladder. And perhaps the toughest: get into and drive a vehicle.” As my friend Brett Kennedy of JPL notes in the piece, JPL’s RoboSimian has many advantages but may not do so well with car driving as yet.

This challenge offers $2 million to the winner, but the real prize maybe like the self-driving car challenge. Great technology is developed, industry sees it potential, and a whole new industry blossoms. There are some questions about what technology can be proprietary when the core was from government funds. Peter Lee’s work on this point comes to mind. Nonetheless, I dig this approach and the goals. Cylons to help us in nasty places and nasty jobs, oops, did I say cylons? Seriously, I hope we don’t need these sorts of options for Sandy or other disasters, but the odds are we will. So working on finding better ways to deal with the aftermath of such events is great and smart in my view.

The video below is from the Drexel project, Hubo, I believe.