If a robot could be sent into a damaged building, or a nuclear facility, to turn off systems, search for victims and check for damage, it would save a human emergency worker from having to go into a dangerous situation.
During the opening ceremony this morning, Gill Pratt, a program manager with DARPA, recalled the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan and led a meltdown of three of the plant's nuclear reactors.
"Robots were sent to Japan to help," said Pratt. "They did their best but what they could do was not enough. They couldn't turn those vent valves off. The inability of our best robots to make a profound effect in the short term was disastrous."
DARPA leaders are hoping the competition will lead to robots that are quicker, more stable and more autonomous so they could make a difference in a disaster situation.
Leshin, who was a senior scientist at NASA and worked on the Mars rover Curiosity science team, said she's most impressed at the challenge with the advances in the overall robotic systems.
"To me, one of the most exciting technology advances is seeing the system level work with vision, computational power, the ability to use tools and automation," she told Computerworld. "Any of these technologies individually is tough to do, but making them work all together is impressive."
Today is the first official day of the finals. All 24 teams will compete on the course today, and will be able to repeat the course on Saturday.
DARPA will take the highest score from both days and combine it with the speed the teams needed to complete the course to award the top team.
The winner will go home with $2 million, while the second-place team will receive $1 million and the third-place team will get $500,000.
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