IHMC Robotics rode a strong second day in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) to finish in second place overall in the second phase of the international robotics competition. The team from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola was up against 16 of the best robotics development teams in the world.
Significantly, IHMC Robotics was the top-scoring team among the seven using the humanoid, two-legged Atlas robot, built by Boston Dynamics, a private company recently purchased by Google. The other top-scoring teams used robots they developed for the competition. The strong finish built on IHMC’s first-place showing in the initial phase of the competition, the DARPA Virtual Robotics Challenge, conducted in June.
By finishing among the top eight in the second phase, IHMC qualifies for continued funding in the DRC from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The team that wins the final phase of the competition, scheduled for December 2014, will win $2 million for further research.
“Everyone is exhausted but happy,” said IHMC Director/CEO Ken Ford, who attended the trials. “It was a really wonderful showing for the whole IHMC robotics team against the best from all around the world.”
The two-day trials at the Homestead Miami Speedway were open to the public, and Ford said IHMC had enthusiastic vocal support from “a loud and active cheering section,” some of whom made the trip from Pensacola and Ocala to back the team. IHMC has a branch facility in Ocala.
“We’re proud of the way we competed,” said Jerry Pratt, a research scientist at IHMC and one of the leaders of the 25-member team in Homestead. “It was a real team effort, from writing the software to practicing for the trials to operating the Atlas robot at the Speedway.”
Pratt said IHMC scored only 4 points on Friday due to the schedule having them competing in only two of the eight tasks, which were designed to test mobility, manipulation, dexterity, perception, and operator control mechanisms. The team came back with 16 points Saturday.
According to DARPA, the DRC is a competition designed to foster the development of robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. The competition was designed to be extremely difficult.
Participating teams, representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline to develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will enable their robots to complete a series of challenge tasks selected by DARPA for their relevance to disaster response.
According to preliminary results, IHMC scored 20 out of a possible perfect score of 32. Third place went to Tartan Rescue, from the Carnegie-Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center, which developed its own robot. Fourth place went to MIT that, like IHMC, used an Atlas robot. First place, at 27 points, went to a team from SCHAFT Inc., in Japan, which used a robot it developed specifically for the event.
The Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) is one of the nation’s premier research organizations with world-class scientists and engineers investigating a broad range of topics related to building technological systems aimed at amplifying and extending human cognitive, perceptual, and physical capacities. IHMC headquarters are in Pensacola, Florida, with a branch research facility in Ocala, Florida.