When 17 of the world’s best disaster-response robots gathered in Miami last December, the Japanese SCHAFT robot dominated the competition. It performed so well that Google decided to buy it as part of its series of robotics company acquisitions earlier this year. Now, SCHAFT is withdrawing from the competition so it can concentrate on its first commercial product for Google.
The DARPA Robotics Challenge asks universities and private laboratories to build robots that could someday rescue people or perform other tasks in natural or man-made disaster situations. During the December trials, the teams went through eight tasks that ranged from climbing a ladder to driving a vehicle. SCHAFT scored 27 points out of a possible 32; the next-best performing robot scored 20.
DARPA made the SCHAFT announcement alongside a list of the 11 teams that will advance to the Robotics Challenge finals in Pomona, Calif., next year. The ATLAS robot, which is used by a number of teams that are concentrating on software instead of hardware, will continue to compete in the competition despite being made by Boston Dynamics–another company recently acquired by Google.
The 2015 finals will add new tasks and challenges, including rules that robots can’t be tethered to power or communication sources. They will also be expected to complete tasks within an hour instead of four hours, which will push competitors to use emerging technologies.
“For the first time, teams will be empowered to exploit cloud and crowd-augmented robotics, two highly promising research areas that allow onsite operators to leverage remote data, computing and human resources,” Robotics Challenge program manager Gill Pratt said in a release. “These research areas are in their infancy, but after the DRC Finals we hope to see significant innovation.”