POMONA, Calif. (AP) — The robots drove, walked through rubble, climbed stairs, turned valves and sometimes fell, amid cheers and groans from a crowd of thousands at the Fairplex in Pomona, California.
After three years of research, development and an obstacle course of competition, a South Korean team on Saturday won the three-year and $3.5-million U.S. contest to create a robot capable of responding to disaster conditions that are unsafe for humans.
Team Kaist of Daejeon took home $2-million in first-place prize money for its DRC-Hubo robot, which successfully completed eight tasks related to disaster response in less than 45 minutes at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals.
The contest by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Workers couldn't vent hydrogen from the overloaded reactors without enduring excess radiation. The idea was to create a robot that could do such important emergency tasks in the future and get to the problem site.
Competition was fierce among 23 international teams, including a dozen from the United States and 11 from Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong. The robots were timed while navigating eight tasks they would likely encounter in emergency scenarios. The challenge required the teams have their robots increasingly difficult competitions over two years.
Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Florida, finished second, winning $1 million for its robot Running Man. Tartan Rescue of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and its robot CHIMP designed by Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center came in third, winning $500,000.
The event was live-streamed and YouTube videos culling together clips of the robots taking falls throughout the competition were tweeted out.
"These robots are big and made of lots of metal, and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety," said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager and the competition organizer in a statement. "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."