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WPI's team gears up for final battle of the bots

Sharon Gaudin | May 6, 2015
Roboticists race the clock as finals for DARPA Robotics Challenge near.

The previous 6-foot, 2-in. tall, 330-pound robot was transformed into a 7-foot tall, 400-pound machine. The new Atlas version also has more joints for better dexterity, onboard power, a new adjustable hydraulic pump and three new onboard computers.

The new robot was rid of its communications cable, going wireless.

All of these changes mean that DeDonato and his team have rewritten a lot of code for Warner, re-architecting its software to handle the new computers and communications.

They're up to about a million lines of code to run their humanoid robot. The WPI team already has published several papers on how they're handling the robot's balancing and vision, and they plan to publish several more.

"In robotics, software is where most of the advancements need to be," DeDonato said. "To get the robot to actually behave like a human or like we want them to behave, it's heavy on the software."

Now the WPI team is figuring out what their robot can do and what it is still struggling to do.

For instance, late last year the WPI team was to planning to make the robot capable of standing up on its own, in case it loses its balance and falls during the final competition.

However, DeDonato said they're not going to spend any more time on that issue since DARPA has said each team will be allowed one reset with a 10-minute penalty. If WPI's robot falls, the team would likely be able to get the robot up and running again faster than the robot could right itself.

DeDonato also noted, though, that if Warner falls, it's likely to happen on uneven terrain or in the debris course. That would likely mean that the robot would be badly damaged in the fall and might not be able to go any farther anyway.

At this point, the WPI team's robot can complete all the tasks but complete them in the one-hour time alloted. The team wants to get the robot to move through the tasks more quickly but may decide to have the robot skip a task if necessary. Warner can handle the drilling task but since it involves several steps find the drill, pick it up, turn it on and then use it it takes up a lot of time. If necessary, DeDonato may decide to skip that task and give up the points it would gain.

The team, however, needs all the points it can get, and the fastest time they can manage, to win the competition.

"I'm hoping not to skip anything but it's always in the back of my mind," said DeDonato. "All the tasks are worth the same amount of points, but not all have the same difficulty. We need to focus on getting as many tasks done in an hour as we can. At this point, our goal is to do them all, but it may make sense to skip some."


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