As we cast a passing glance at the highs and lows of 2015, and look forward to the unknowns that lie ahead in 2016, one highlight of 2015 for robotics (especially for autonomous platform) fans was the impressive 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. We saw how much progress has been made in the field of robotics…and we learned how far we still have to go.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. military research arm, developed the Robotics Challenge in 2012 to inspire innovations to make robots more capable of intervening for and even replacing humans in high-risk situations such as the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, as well as earthquakes and other natural disasters.
At the 2015 DARPA Robotics finals held in Pomona, California, 11 of the 23 robot finalists stayed on track thanks to the integration of a KVH Fiber Optic Gyro (FOG)-based 1750 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) within their navigation and stabilization systems. The 1750 IMU was an integral part of the winning entry, robot DRC-HUBO by Team Kaist of Daejeon, Republic of Korea, which took home the top award of $2 million.
The third place finisher and winner of $500,000, robot CHIMP and Tartan Rescue of the Carnegie Mellon University National Robotics Engineering Center, also has a previous relationship with DARPA and KVH’s Fiber Optic Gyro products.
CHIMP (CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform) took third place in the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials. Carnegie Mellon University-NREC designed CHIMP to work in dangerous, degraded environments that were built for people, not robots. CHIMP’s near-human form factor, strength, precision, and dexterity give it the ability to perform complex, human-level tasks in these settings.
No mention can be made of CMU or its groundbreaking research and development in robotics without including Professor William “Red” Whittaker, CMU engineering center founder and world-renowned roboticist. Today, Whittaker is leading Astrobotic Technology’s effort to win the $20 million Google Lunar X PRIZE for landing a robot on the moon and sending video of its landing back to earth.
In 2005, CMU’s Red Team Racing and Red Team Racing Too under Whittaker’s direction competed in and placed in that year’s DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition of driverless vehicles across 175 miles of the Mojave Desert meant to promote development of autonomous ground vehicles on the battlefield. Red Team’s two entries used KVH’s DSP-3000 FOGs, providing critical input to their navigation and guidance systems. The two vehicles came in second and third place in the event.
In 2007, Whittaker led Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Racing team to victory as its autonomous SUV took first place and the $2 million grand prize in the DARPA Urban Challenge.
With more needs emerging daily in the unmanned and autonomous sectors, one thing we know for sure is we’ll be reading more about driverless cars, humanoid robots, and other autonomous platforms in the news, and their need for accurate, affordable gyros and IMUs such as those provided by KVH. That’s what a new year, new energy, and new projects are all about, after all.