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DARPA Robotics Challenge concludes, South Korea’s KAIST team bags the top prize

Robot Hubo developed by the KAIST team from South Korea earned the top prize of $2 million in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, last week. The humanoid robot beats IHMC (won $1 million) by six minutes, and Carnegie Melon’s CHIMP took the third place to earn $500,000.


However, Team MIT’s six-foot-two Atlas humanoid captured the attention of spectators. As the robot tried to get out of a red UTV, it shook for seconds before leaving the car and fell flat on its face.  The robot was back on its feet with the help of its team, but its right wrist was broken. The remaining tasks mainly involved the hand, and the team were able to improvise their software. As the robot’s encoders failed after the fall, the team replaced the sensor nodes.

Hubo uses wheeled knees to climb stairs, stands and rotates 180 degrees at the waist, and walks backward to avoid hitting its shins. CHIMP can also move on its elbows, allowing it to recover from falls. Out of the 23 teams at the event, some teams have eight or nine operators, each focusing on a specific task. However, IHMC has a single pilot John Carff, the winner of a competition inside the lab.

There was a great commercial interest surrounding the robots. Uber’s Travis Kalanick met Carnegie Mellon’s team, the leader of the team had recently joined the company’s autonomous initiative. Google has already roped in several teams in the challenge like Boston Dynamics and Japanese team Schaft that won the last challenge and backed out of the competition.

DARPA program manager and DRC organizer Gill Pratt said in a statement:

“These robots are big and made of lots of metal and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety. But we heard groans of sympathy when those robots fell. And what did people do every time a robot scored a point? They cheered! It’s an extraordinary thing, and I think this is one of the biggest lessons from DRC—the potential for robots not only to perform technical tasks for us, but to help connect people to one another.”

Amazon had reportedly visited the garage, and sponsored several teams. The company also held its own challenge to design a robot that can pick objects of shelf and deposit them in a box. Currently, Kiva robots are used by the company to bring the shelves to human workers. The challenge proved that robots are becoming faster, adaptive and autonomous, despite significant shortcomings.

Video of the moment when Hubo won:

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About Anirudh Madhav

A movie buff, a bookworm, and a compulsive doodler. All posts by Anirudh

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