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Korean Team Walks Away with $2M by Winning DARPA Robotics Challenge

Korean Team Walks Away with $2M by Winning DARPA Robotics Challenge

Taking first place in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, the Korean-built DRC-Hubo robot turns a steam valve, one of eight tasks the robot had to complete for judges. Image courtesy of DARPA.

“May the best robot win” has been a frequently uttered phrase throughout the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, held June 5 and 6, 2015 at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. After years of research and development, several intense days of preparation at the competition site, a day of rehearsal and two full days of head-to-head competition in front of thousands of spectators, the verdict is in.

Taking first place and the $2 million in prize money that goes with it is Team Kaist of Daejeon, Republic of Korea, and its robot DRC-Hubo. Coming in second and taking home $1 million is Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Fla., and its robot Running Man. The third-place finisher, earning the $500,000 prize, is Tartan Rescue of Pittsburgh, and its robot CHIMP.

The DRC-Hubo robot opens a door to the next section of the DARPA robotics obstacle course. Image courtesy of DARPA.

DARPA program manager and DRC organizer Gill Pratt congratulated all 23 participating teams and thanked them for helping to open a new era of partnership between robots and humans.

“These robots are big and made of lots of metal and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety,” Pratt said. “But we heard groans of sympathy when those robots fell. And what did people do every time a robot scored a point? They cheered! It’s an extraordinary thing, and I think this is one of the biggest lessons from DRC—the potential for robots not only to perform technical tasks for us, but to help connect people to one another.”

On the left: DRC-Hubo completes the final leg of testing by walking up and down a flight of stairs. On the right: DRC-Hubo cuts a hole in a thin board. Images courtesy of DARPA.

Launched in response to a humanitarian need that became glaringly clear during the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, the DARPA Robotics Challenge consisted of three increasingly demanding competitions over two years. The goal was to accelerate progress in robotics and hasten the day when robots have sufficient dexterity and robustness to enter areas too dangerous for humans and mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters.

The DRC Finals competition challenged participating robotics teams and their robots to complete a difficult course of eight tasks relevant to disaster response, among them driving alone, walking through rubble, tripping circuit breakers, turning valves, and climbing stairs. A dozen teams from the United States and another 11 from Japan, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong competed in the outdoor competition.

As part of a series of tests related to disaster response, the DRC-Hubo clears rubble away from a designated area. Image courtesy of DARPA.

“This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters,” said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar. “I am so proud of all the teams that participated and know that the community that the DRC has helped to catalyze will do great things in the years ahead.”

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