One of the hardest tasks for robots in the 2013 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge Trials was driving. During the DRC Finals in June, the 25 competing robots and teams will face the driving task again, and this time it will be even more difficult.
The DRC Finals are meant to mimic real disaster-response situations in which robots would use real tools. Robots will be challenged to drive the Polaris vehicle on a roadway and weave their way around obstacles. This year, teams can score an additional point by having their robots successfully exit the vehicle, a tricky task for a robot. For the teams that attempt it, this task is bound to be one of the most challenging in the DRC.
The benefits of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) such as these extend beyond individual events or programs. In this case, data generated by the robots and their human operators will be collected to improve potential future use of robots and vehicles in these types of situations by both industry and government.
In the early stages of recent disasters, it became clear there were limitations to what mitigation steps humans could take due to dangerous conditions. This DARPA Robotics Challenge was created to spur development of robotic technology that can help humans tobetter respond to future disasters. The Challenge Finals will have robots perform a number of tasks in a continuous course, simulating what might be encountered in a real disaster situation.
Polaris Industries Inc. announced that its limited edition DARPA Polaris RANGER XP 900 EPS and GEM electric vehicles will be used as part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals June 5-6 at the Fairplex, in Pomona, California.
The company said “DARPA will use the RANGER XP 900 EPS in one of the most difficult tasks to help demonstrate a robot’s ability to operate and to egress from a vehicle, since they are among the tools commonly on hand in disaster zones. The Polaris RANGER XP 900 is one of the best-selling vehicles in its class and widely used around the world with disaster-relief organizations such as the National Guard, Salvation Army and other first responders.”
“We are excited to continue our relationship with DARPA after the successful DRC Trials in 2013,” said Rich Haddad, general manager of Polaris Defense. “Off-road vehicles are some of the most useful vehicles in disaster relief, and our specialized RANGER vehicles were built to accommodate the robots and provide mobility for the driving task. In the future, the versatility of the RANGER platform would allow a robot to transport tools, equipment, supplies and power around a disaster site, while traversing the difficult terrain often found in disaster situations.”
Polaris has worked with each selected team to be sure the Limited Edition DARPA RANGER XP 900 EPS physically accommodates their robots. This meant removing the front part of the rollover protection structure to accommodate larger robots, and adjusting throttle controls for others. The vehicles also feature a bench seat and tilt steering to provide ample room for robots to operate them. In addition, all of the vehicles were customized with safety features to keep the robots—and spectators—out of harm’s way. The new technology allows DRC officials to slow a vehicle at a controlled speed to keep the robots safely inside.
The DRC Trials occurred December 20-21, 2013, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where teams guided their robots through eight individual, physical tasks. One of the toughest of the eight tasks used the custom RANGER XP 900 EPS to help demonstrate the robots’ ability to operate vehicles, since they are among the tools commonly on hand in disaster zones. The driving task during the finals will require robots to drive the Limited Edition DARPA RANGER XP 900 EPS on a roadway and weave its way around obstacles. The robots also will have to egress the vehicle and attempt to intervene in a mockup disaster site where humans cannot perform tasks due to danger.
The winning team for the DRC overall will receive a $2 million grand prize; DARPA plans to award $1 million to the runner-up and $500,000 to the third-place team.
For the trials and finals, Polaris customized the Limited Edition DARPA RANGER XP 900 EPS so it was an extremely capable mobility platform for human or robot drivers. The vehicles feature a remote SafeStop electronic throttle kill, brake actuation technology, a 1,000-lb capacity bed for the robot’s power supply; and inside the cab, a bench seat and tilt steering for ample room for robots to operate the vehicle. To maneuver the diverse types of terrains encountered in disasters without running the risk of flats, the vehicles are also equipped with TERRAINARMOR airless tires.
“The purpose-built DARPA RANGERs are part of our continuing effort to lead the way in creating extremely-capable off-road vehicle platforms that are plug-and-play for the robotics companies,” Haddad said. “This means incorporating by-wire control technology and helping to provide information about the vehicles to make safe autonomous operation possible.With all of this, autonomy companies can more easily integrate the needed hardware and software for unmanned, optionally-manned and tele-operated off-road vehicles.”
Along with the RANGER XP 900 EPS, Polaris GEM vehicles will be used during the challenge.