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One Day, Robots May Work in Zones Too Dangerous For Humans

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THOR-OP robot

THOR-OP, the Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot-Open Platform, is an open hardware and software robot.

Credit: Dennis Hong / UCLA

Teams of roboticists from around the world will be competing in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge next year, seeking a $2 million prize for advancements in the field that one day could yield robots capable of carrying out rescue and recovery activities in disaster zones too hazardous for humans. The challenge was in part inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan: robots capable of withstanding the intense radiation could have dramatically accelerated the response, but the plant's layout and the tsunami-soaked conditions proved too much for the most advanced robots available at the time.

The goal of the DARPA challenge is to develop robots with a broad skill set, such as operating levers and valves and navigating stairs and obstacles, which could be of use in the wake of a disaster.

The teams competing in the challenge have taken a variety of different approaches. Some teams have created largely humanoid robots, such as the University of California, Los Angeles' THOR-OP and Boston Dynamics' Atlas, while others have created more curious robots, such as SCHAFT, the bird-legged robot that won the first round of the DARPA challenge. The next round will add new challenges into the mix and add a great deal of time pressure, requiring robots to complete a set of tasks in an hour.

From The Washington Post
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