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October 25, 2012

The DRC Program Exploits Humanoid Robot Technology

The possibility of robots being able to act and look somewhat like humans have already developed in laboratories. There are various types of robots that exist today that have been put to work in human environments and have used human tools to perform important jobs.

Robots can be found performing different tasks in various fields: Often, they are used in manufacturing industries, in space exploration, for military operations, and to perform medical procedures in operating rooms.

There are many reasons for using a robot to replace human beings when it comes to carrying out tasks that are hazardous or of extreme danger for people. For example, there are robotic systems meant for landmine detection and marking. It’s common for both law enforcement agencies and the military to use such an appropriate device to find and destroy mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

Also in use are articulated robotic arms, which recreate the movement of a human arm to quickly do a job much faster than a human can. An example is the robot’s mechanical arm to control a cow’s feed and milk.

Even humanoid robots, which resemble human body with legs, arms and human facial features such as eyes and mouths, are being developed not only to perform human tasks, but mainly to be ready to save lives.

Disaster response humanoid robots like Virginia Tech's proposed THOR, which closely resembles the Star Wars robot C-3PO – a humanoid protocol droid - had been designed to carry out dangerous jobs. THOR is an example of a robot that has super-human capabilities, with machine learning techniques incorporating human interface technology.

In response to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster that hit Japan following a massive earthquake in March 2011, the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) came about to promote innovation in robotic technology for disaster-response operations.

The DRC program, which is a contest involving seven teams, to include Virginia Tech's proposed THOR, has to come up with a humanoid robot able to drive a vehicle, move across rough terrain, clear away items in order to enter a passageway, climb a ladder, cut-through concrete, find, fix and replace damages seen on a scene.

Also part of the DRC program is expanding the supplier base for ground robot software development;  not only are teams’ robots being challenged of executing complex tasks in dangerous field environments – utilizing available human tools, ranging from hand tools to vehicles in order to save people’s life in the future – but the challenge is to make them be more accessible to interested contributors.

The DRC program is meant to encourage participation around the world from those who may be interested in robotic technology for disaster-response operations. It looks for possible developments in ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in an emergency disaster or in dangerous, human-engineered environments. In addition, the DRC looks to identify robots that could be used to serve in rescue missions or would be able to mitigate a crisis situation.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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