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DARPA Deems Drexel-Led Team ‘On Track’ For First Robotics Challenge Trial

July 11, 2013

The collaborative work of roboticists from 10 institutions who have pooled their efforts to compete as team DRC-HUBO in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Robotics Challenge has been rewarded with an official thumbs up from the agency. The Drexel-led team passed the first phase of critical design review by DARPA program management staff and will be among the competitors at the DRC head-to-head trials in December. The goal of the DRC is to develop robots that can perform the hazardous activities associated with disaster response.

"The DARPA Robotics Challenge will be the biggest show in robotics this decade and will fundamentally transform our interaction with robots," said Dr. Paul Oh, a professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering and the DRC-HUBO team leader.

Following the critical design review, the DRC-HUBO team is one of six teams remaining in Track A –the group made up of teams who are creating their own robot platform and operation software. With Drexel as the lead institution, Team DRC-HUBO is leveraging the collective knowledge and labors of engineers from Columbia University, the University of Delaware, Georgia Institute of Technology, Indiana University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Swarthmore College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Among the remaining challengers are teams from Carnegie Mellon University, the NASA – Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, SCHAFT Inc. and Virginia Tech. In addition to DARPA’s designation of the Track A competitors, the agency also announced that the first trials of the completion will be held in December.  Seven teams from Tracks B and C, who will be using a DARPA-provided robot platform called Atlas, will also compete in the trials.

The DRC-HUBO team is in the process of physically concerting its efforts for the first time, as representatives from each of the 10 team members are on Drexel’s campus to collaborate throughout the summer. The team has constructed a full-scale mockup of a disaster site that will allow the robots to practice each of the eight events laid out by DARPA.

Each team member is charged with programming the HUBO humanoid robot platform to perform one of the eight disaster-recovery-related tasks. In addition to serving as the central processing and troubleshooting center for the team, Drexel is also programing the robot to get into and out of a vehicle in tandem with University of Delaware researchers who are developing a way for it to drive and navigate. Engineers from Ohio State are working on a way for it to climb over rough terrain. Georgia Tech’s group is programming the robot to clear debris and break through a concrete wall. At Swarthmore College, roboticists are getting the robot to open a door. Purdue and Indiana University researchers are teaming up to tackle the task of having the robot climb a ladder. Worchester Polytechnic Institute engineers are handling the valve-turning task and a group from Columbia is programming the robot to re-attach a hose.

The announcement marks the mid-point of the first phase of the 27-month challenge that began in October 2012. Phase 1 will culminate with the trials in December and the teams that advance will receive additional funding from DARPA and move into Phase 2, which will give them 12 months to refine their designs before the final head-to-head competition in December 2014.