The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has unveiled a major upgrade to its search and rescue robot, ATLAS.
ATLAS was developed and launched by Boston Dynamics in July, 2013. Boston Dynamics was in turn snapped up by Google last year. DARPA funds and guides the development of ATLAS, which until now, has received its power from a chunky cable.
It’s development has been sped up by DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, the $2 million competition to create a robot capable of search and rescue ops which it launched in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
Here’s the original ATLAS upon launch:
At the time, DARPA program manager Gill Pratt said it was like a “a 1-year-old child” which could “barely walk”.
Barely 18 months later, ATLAS can climb rough terrain, has fine motor skills in its hands, laser rangefinders and stereo cameras for eyes and can withstand being hit by projectiles. It’s 75 per cent different from the original; only the lower legs and feet are yet to get an overhaul.
DARPA are especially proud of its new hands which can turn a door handle without having to move an entire arm.
And here it is, with its shiny new breastplate and having ditched the extremely inhibiting power cable:
According to DARPA:
Atlas will now carry an onboard 3.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, with the potential for one hour of “mixed mission” operation that includes walking, standing, use of tools, and other movements. This will drive a new variable-pressure pump that allows for more efficient operation.
DARPA’s timing in unveiling the new ATLAS is not without purpose. The finalists from 2013’s Robotics Challenge trials have been picked and developing software for the cordless version is one of three new key hurdles they have to face in the finals, held June 5-6 this year in Pomona, California.
Teams must communicate with their robot over a wireless network, and can’t intervene if it gets stuck or falls over.
DARPA will also “intentionally degrade communications between the robots and human operators”, because disaster rescue rarely happens in a perfect world.
And to sweeten the pot a little, DARPA has thrown in an extra $1.5 million in prizemoney – $1 million for the runner-up and $500,000 for third place.
At least 20 teams are expected to take up the challenge.