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Drexel Team DRC-HUBO to Travel to Florida for DARPA Robotics Challenge

November 20, 2013

The Drexel-led DRC-HUBO team will be competing at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) head-to-head trials December 20 - 21, 2013 in Homestead, Fla. at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where teams from around the world will showcase their robots performing eight events from driving a utility vehicle, clearing debris, climbing ladders, turning valves and to attaching fire hoses. 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,” said Dr. Paul Oh, a professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering and the DRC-HUBO team leader. “It will fundamentally change our world and the way we work with robots.”

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, composed of representatives from each of the nine teammate institutions, worked on Drexel’s campus throughout the summer into early fall collaborating and training. The team used a full-scale mockup of a disaster site to allow the robots to practice each of the eight events laid out by DARPA and offered tours to the public to allow the community to see the robots in action.

Each team member was 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 also programed the robot to get into and out of a vehicle in tandem with University of Delaware researchers who developed a way for it to drive and navigate. Engineers from Ohio State worked on a way for it to climb over rough terrain. Georgia Tech’s group programed the robot to clear debris and break through a concrete wall. At Swarthmore College, roboticists developed a way for the robot to open a door. Purdue and Indiana University researchers teamed up to tackle the task of having the robot climb a ladder. Worchester Polytechnic Institute engineers handled the valve-turning task and a group from Columbia programmed the robot to re-attach a hose.

Phase 1 of the 27-month challenge began in October 2012 and will culminate with the trials in Florida late December. 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.