DARPA, the U.S. military’s research arm, is getting ready to issue a call to arms — specifically, humanoid arms on a new kind of robot.

DARPA’s Grand Challenge, a prize competition for technological innovation that could be useful in military applications, began in 2004 as the military’s way of crowdsourcing new designs for driverless cars. Now, DARPA is preparing to proclaim a new Grand Challenge.

This time around, the military is looking for a better humanoid robot: a bipedal machine for use in all kinds of terrain and environments, up to and including industrial disasters.

DARPA program manager Dr. Gill Pratt announced the new objective at the Defense Threat Reduction Agengy’s Industry Day. According to sources present at that event, Pratt, whose specialty is in robotics and human/machine collaboration, said DAPRA plans to grant funding to six hardware teams and twelve software teams in the Grand Challenge.

In addition to the robots themselves, DARPA is looking to fund environmental simulations and will be working with unpaid hardware and software teams, as well.

DTRA Industry Day attendees report that DARPA is looking for a robot that can do the following:

  • Navigate itself into a open-frame utility vehicle, hop into the driver’s seat, and drive the vehicle to a specified location.
  • Exit the vehicle, unlock a door, and go through the door.
  • Safely travel down a 100 meter-long hallyway littered with debris.
  • Climb a ladder
  • Fix a gas-leaking pipe
  • Replace a broken pump

The U.S. military has been showing off new robotics projects in a big way lately. Just last month, the Navy held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a state-of-the-art new robotics lab, complete with a range of realistic testing environments (rainforest, desert, wave pool, etc.) and a few humanoid bots, as well.

More details on the DARPA Grand Challenge should be coming soon, so stay tuned to the DARPA newsroom for upcoming information.


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