After more than a year of preparation a Drexel-led team of robotics engineers engaged in an intense two days of trying an erring at the DARPA Robotics Challenge. While the DRC-Hubo team came up short of the ultimate prize, a top-eight finish and additional funding from DARPA, the engineers learned a great deal while putting their machine to the test against some of the most advanced robots in the world.
Facing the challenge of performing the DRC’s eight disaster-scenario tasks for the first time in an outdoor environment proved to be one of the biggest challenges for the teams. The pleasant climes of Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway were often accompanied by gusts of wind – a true challenge to overcome for robots who’d worked mostly in lab settings up to that point. All eight of the testing areas were constructed on the infield of the speedway.
Of the DARPA-sanctioned challenges, operating the robot from a remote location with limited communication capabilities was one that the team was well-equipped to handle. From its control center -which doubled as the trailer for transporting the robots to Florida- the team used visual feedback from the robot to direct it through each of the tasks.
As the trials began, DRC-Hubo got on the scoreboard by earning two points in the ladder climbing task on day one. Hubo steadily ascended the ladder and had only the final step remaining before it took a tumble while grasping for the railing. Fortunately, the robots were wearing harnesses during each of the tasks, to prevent serious damage.
On the second day of the trials, the team earned another point in the valve-turning task by twisting the first of three valves, to cheers from a large contingent of Drexel supporters in the stands.
Although its three points were not enough to place DRC-Hubo among the top eight teams, who received an additional $1 million in funding for the next year of development, the team’s performance encouraged its leader, Dr. Paul Oh, to seek out additional funding for it to continue working this year and compete in the DRC Finals in December 2014.