AI News, DRC Finals: CMU’s CHIMP Gets Up After Fall, Shows How Awesome Robots Can Be

DRC Finals: CMU’s CHIMP Gets Up After Fall, Shows How Awesome Robots Can Be

A bunch of robots fell during runs today, and in every case, humans rushed in with a gantry and hoisted the robot back up again.

This is what the rules allow, but the spirit of the competition is really looking for robots that can operate independently in disaster areas without human assistance.

We’re likely to see more attempts at robots getting themselves up tomorrow (as it’s the last competition day and there isn’t as much to lose), but during today’s run, CMU’s CHIMP robot showed everybody what a resilient disaster robot should be able to do.

But, no matter: the robot realized something was wrong, paused to collect itself, and repositioned to give itself a clear path out of the vehicle.

The remote operators stepped in and manually moved CHIMP’s limbs to get it to flop over on its belly, and at that point, its autonomous behavior could take over, and just like that, CHIMP was up and running and no worse for wear.

Besides just being awesome, we want to make the point that this is exactly how these robots are supposed to work, especially looking ahead towards operations in a real disaster area.

Robots Walking, Robots Toppling, and other Photos from the DARPA Robotics Challenge

Since each team was allowed two runs--one on Friday, and one on Saturday--and the robots with the best scores would be on their parallel, identical courses at roughly the same time, the assumption was that the most exciting runs would take place on Saturday evening.

The five-foot-tall robot took extra time egressing from its Polaris, fell while entering the facility (which was considered impossible, given its stable posture and use of tracked movement instead of walking), and had trouble cutting through the wall.

CHIMP Robot Gets Ready for DARPA Finals June 5-6

The team’s four-limbed robot, CHIMP, is capable of performing all eight tasks, including driving a vehicle, climbing stairs and using power tools, that it will encounter in a simulated disaster course the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is assembling at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.

Though the team had developed the robot’s software in parallel with the hardware, crucial software for several locomotion tasks, such as driving a vehicle, climbing stairs and crossing uneven terrain, didn’t exist, making it impossible to even attempt those tasks at the Trials.

But manipulation software, developed with the help of a surrogate robot arm prior to the robot’s final assembly, enabled CHIMP to perform well on manipulation tasks and to finish in third place at the Trials.

CHIMP is roughly the size of a human, an inch short of 5 feet when it’s standing and almost 3 feet when it’s crawling.

It gets down on all fours to cross uneven terrain, but can stand on its rear legs when it must use its forelimbs for operating power tools, opening doors or other manipulation tasks.

Unlike walking humanoids that must actively maintain their balance, CHIMP is statically stable and won’t tumble if it loses power or has a computer glitch.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Was A Bust

What followed were the most suspenseful minutes in the entire competition, as the bot—already a fan-favorite, thanks to its striking, primate-inspired design, and attention from media outlets (ours included) in the run-up to the finals—struggled to get up.

And with each failed, and undignified bout of writhing, it seemed more likely that CMU would join that sad DRC tradition, of treating its robot like a mechanical invalid.

There's no denying that CHIMP's eventual third-place finish was due to world-class engineering, the deep bench of robotics talent that CMU has developed, and some unquantifiable amount of grit and gumption on the part of the team members.

Years of work and tens of millions of funding culminated in an event that no one appeared to care about, despite the fact that it featured walking, driving, tool-grabbing humanoid robots.

“Every car failed, and the closest was CMU, which got seven and a half miles in and then hit a boulder,” says Boris Sofman, CEO of Anki, a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence startup that makes autonomous toy cars.

“But just three years later, they had autonomous cars driving in an urban setting, with moving vehicles, following traffic laws,” says Sofman.

“And less than 10 years later we have truly autonomous cars that are already at a functionality that's better than humans, in a lot of the roads they're being tested in.” DARPA's response to the 2004 Grand Challenge was bold.

But that initial dud in the Mojave desert was the foundation for the robot car competitions that came later, and for the rapid, and stunning pace of innovation in driverless vehicles within the commercial sector.

If DARPA is serious about pushing the development of robots that could respond to disasters, or at least navigate and function within human environments without making dangerous fools of themselves, the first step is to recognize failure.

The result was a performance that was good enough to win the finals, but if you applied the robot's timid, halting, 45-minute slog to a real-life disaster, it's hard to imagine it accomplishing anything useful.

And shouldn't a machine that's designed to charge into an emergency be both capable of moving with some measure of speed, and capable of surviving the sort of stumble that any human responder would easily recover from?

And the DRC's most indelible and embarrassing visual, of robot after robot tipping over, ramrod straight, like a felled tree, could be supplanted by the more inspirational optics of machines getting back up.

Robot Finishes Third In DARPA Robotics Challenge

CHIMP, a four-limbed robot designed and built by Carnegie Mellon University’s Tartan Rescue Team, finished third and won $500,000 Saturday (June 6) at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a two-day event that pitted 24 of the world’s most advanced robots against each other in a test of their ability to respond to disasters.

During its best run on Friday, the robot engaged the enthusiastic audience as it overcame several mishaps and missteps to complete all eight of the possible tasks in 55 minutes, 15 seconds —

Scoring was based on the number of tasks completed, with elapsed time the deciding factor for ties.CHIMP’s first run on Friday was remarkable both because it placed the robot in first place following the first day of competition and because the team was able to recover from several significant setbacks.

driving and exiting a car, opening a door, closing a valve, using a power tool to cut a hole in a wall, clearing debris, turning off a switch and climbing stairs during its allotted time.

But NREC designed CHIMP to be statically stable and to roll on tank-like treads on each of its limbs, minimizing the risk of falls.The robot is roughly the size of a human, an inch short of 5 feet when it’s standing and almost 3 feet when it’s crawling.

Scoring was based on the number of tasks completed, with elapsed time the deciding factor for ties.CHIMP’s first run on Friday was remarkable both because it placed the robot in first place following the first day of competition and because the team was able to recover from several significant setbacks.

driving and exiting a car, opening a door, closing a valve, using a power tool to cut a hole in a wall, clearing debris, turning off a switch and climbing stairs during its allotted time.

But NREC designed CHIMP to be statically stable and to roll on tank-like treads on each of its limbs, minimizing the risk of falls.The robot is roughly the size of a human, an inch short of 5 feet when it’s standing and almost 3 feet when it’s crawling.

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