On Dec. 20-21, research teams from around the world will be competing in the trials of the DARPA Robotics Challenge—a mock-up of a disaster scenario prompted by Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, caused by the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Teams will be directing their emergency-response robots to perform eight basic tasks that were drawn from the Fukushima Daiichi response and then converted into standardized tests by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A year later, the capabilities of robots that qualify in this year’s trials will be tested in a more realistic disaster scenario. In the winner-take-all finals, robots will perform all eight challenges consecutively.
The goal of the novel competition, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is to spur “cost-effective” hardware and software innovations that will enable future robots to perform the most hazardous activities during or in the aftermath of a disaster. Early on, DARPA engaged NIST to help it craft its disaster-response requirements for robots and distill them into tests that the Defense Department agency could use to measure and compare the capabilities of competitors.
“The DARPA Robotics Challenge is a great learning opportunity for the robotics community and a chance for NIST to demonstrate how standard performance tests help to inspire and guide innovation while measuring progress in a diverse, fast-moving area of technology,” says engineer Adam Jacoff, leader of the NIST testing program.
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