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South Korean team surges past rivals to win DARPA bot battle

Sharon Gaudin | June 8, 2015
24 teams from around the world showcased their disaster response robots over two days.

POMONA, Calif. -- South Korea's Team Kaist, which had been in sixth place after the first day of competition in the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals, maneuvered past its rivals on Saturday to win the two-and-a-half-year battle.

Team Kaist slipped past the other teams to claim the $2 million prize in what was a battle between some of the best roboticists from around the world. There were 24 teams all together.

The winning team is made up of engineers and programmers from Kaist, a South Korean research university formerly known as the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, along with researchers from the Rainbow Co., a spinoff of the university's research lab.

Team Kaist, which operates a nearly six-foot-tall, 176-pound humanoid robot, finished all eight tasks in the course in just 44 minutes and 28 seconds.

The winning run was six minutes faster than the competition's runner up -- Team IHMC, from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, which also earned eight points, came in second place and won $1 million. Team Tartan Rescue from Carnegie Mellon University was third, also with eight points, and won $500,000.

"It's a great moment," said In So Kweon, a Kaist team leader who worked on the robot's sensing abilities. "The most important thing is the humanoid robot's system is so well built. It has good balancing and can walk on its feet or roll on wheels. It was a brilliant mechanical idea."

The robot, which has two arms, is built to walk upright on two feet or kneel down and roll on wheels built into its knees.

All of the robotic teams had to take on a course that simulated a disaster scene, which challenged the robots with tasks like driving a car, opening a door, turning a valve, navigating debris and climbing stairs.

DARPA ran the challenge to encourage roboticists to work on hardware and software that will be needed one day for robots to work in natural and man-made disasters, entering dangerous areas, turning off systems, searching for victims and assessing damage.

The competition brought in teams from the likes of Carnegie Mellon University, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MIT, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Virginia Tech.

"The key thing about this technology is that it's not just that it's a cool robot...; the key thing is to be solving a problem in the human condition," Pam Melroy, deputy director of DARPA's tactical technology office, said. "Some of these robots, if there was a disaster tomorrow, we might be able to send them and they might be able to make a difference."

Melroy, who also is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a former NASA astronaut, said she thinks highly capable robots could be deployed worldwide for disaster response within 10 to 15 years.


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