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Atlas Unplugged: DARPA challenge robot gets major makeover

Sharon Gaudin | Jan. 23, 2015
Research teams get new version of humanoid robot that is 75 percent new.

Adapting the software they had been using to get the old version of Atlas to walk, climb stairs, open doors and even drive a car to now work on the new robot was a challenge.

"We had a couple of hours every day to work on it and we got things working and it walking the first day with a few tweaks," said DeDonato. "The first time you see it, it's a big shock. It looks different and it's very quiet. It's almost an eerie feeling not having that old hydraulic pump making that loud, whiney sound.... It's a great upgrade. Everything looks better."

With the final competition coming up June 5-6, all of the teams using Atlas Unplugged will have a lot of work to do to adapt to their new machine, Joe Bondaryk, project manager with Boston Dynamics, noted in a video.

The challenge was developed to entice researchers to develop robots that could be used in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters, like earthquakes or bombings. It's hoped that one day, robots will be able to drive up to damaged buildings, walk in, maneuver through various rooms, turn off valves and find survivors.

The finals will test that scenario.

According to DARPA, each team's robot will need to either drive or walk to a mock disaster scene where it will have to work through a series of tasks, like using a drill, climbing over rubble or up stairs, carrying a fire hose and opening doors.

"The finals are going to be very hard," said Pratt. "They're going to be much harder than the trials were. It's what we have to do to really bring these systems to the right level of development. We want the tests to be much more authentic, much more like real disasters.... The robots will have to perform much, much better than before."

In the DARPA video above, officials talk about the changes that have been made to the Atlas robot that will be largely used in the finals of the Robotics Challenge this coming June.


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