The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will be presenting teams of the world's best roboticists with a battery of difficult tasks during its robotic challenge finals next June, but one of the most difficult will be the initial challenge: having a robot drive a car through an obstacle and then get out of that car.
Getting out of the vehicle is particularly challenging, according to Michael Gennert, director of robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Gennert says getting out of the vehicle requires the complex coordination of the robot's different extremities, in most cases without the benefit of the human sense of touch that gives people awareness of where and how different parts of their bodies are in contact with a vehicle. "When it's walking, the robot touches the ground with its left foot and right foot and that's that," Gennert says. "In a car...there are many and different kinds of contact."
Teams have the option of skipping this challenge, but their robots would still have to navigate the obstacle course on foot and would forfeit points from the car challenge, so many, including the WPI team, which is working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, plan to go for it.
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