A team of roboticists from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology claimed a $2 million prize on Saturday that was offered by a Pentagon research agency for developing a mobile robot capable of operating in hazardous environments.
Twenty-five teams of university and corporate roboticists competed for the prize, which was first given in 2012 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The robots were graded on their ability to complete eight tasks, including driving a vehicle, opening a door, operating a portable drill, turning a valve and climbing stairs, all in the space of an hour.
The Korean victory is a validation of the work of JunHo Oh, the designer of the Hubo family of humanoid robots that he has developed since 2002. The winning Hubo is a clever machine that can kneel and drive on wheels in addition to walking.
The second-place winner, the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., received $1 million, and the third-place winner, Tartan Rescue, from the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., received $500,000.
Despite clear progress since a trial event in Florida in 2013, the robots remain decades away from the science-fiction feats seen in movies like “Ex Machina” and “Chappie.”
Instead, the robots seemed more like an array of electronic and hydraulic contraptions that, in some cases, walked in a lumbering fashion on two or four legs and, in other cases, rolled on tracks or wheels. Some of the machines weighed more than 400 pounds. They were equipped with sensors and cameras to permit remote control.
On Friday, the first day of the Robotics Challenge, it took until 2:30 in the afternoon for the first robot to successfully complete the course, seven and a half hours after the competition began. Frequently, the machines would stand motionless for minutes at a time while they waited for wireless connections with their controllers to improve. Darpa degraded the wireless links on purpose to create the uneven communications that would simulate a crisis situation.
Reporters were once again left grasping for appropriate metaphors to describe the slow-motion calisthenics performed by the menagerie of battery-powered machines. Most agreed that “like watching grass grow” was no longer the best description, and Gill Pratt, the Darpa official in charge of the competition, suggested that it had risen to the level of “watching a golf match.”