"CHIMP" bot prototype. Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Rescue Team have developed CHIMP to compete at the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge. (via Carnegie Mellon)


In response to Fukushima’s nuclear disaster that left Japan in a hazardous heap of trouble, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is hosting a Robotics Challenge to inspire the development of goal-oriented robots that can perform in such dangerous environmental conditions. Participants designated to the Track A competition, most of which will be operating a humanoid robot, must effectively drive a utility vehicle, climb a ladder, open doors, break through cement walls, open/close valves, and replace components with their respective robot counterpart. Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) is taking a bit of a different approach with its simian-like robot that moves much like a tank.


The NREC’s Tartan Rescue Team developed the CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform (CHIMP) to move over rough terrains by way of treads located on all four of its limbs. When needed, the robot can stand up on its two hind legs to perform maneuvers such as turning a valve with its robotic arms.


“When we walk or stand, our brains are actively controlling our balance all of the time. This dynamic balance makes people nimble and enables them to run. However, it also greatly increases the complexity, computational requirements and energy consumption of a machine. So CHIMP is designed with static stability; it won’t fall down even if it experiences a computer glitch or power failure,” says Tony Stentz, Tartan Rescue Team leader and NREC director.


CHIMP’s individual joints can also be operated for finer control by a remote operator. The operator will be in charge of assigning all of the robot’s high-level commands that control its path and actions. With the aid of preloaded special instructions to perform tasks like climbing a ladder and turning a steering wheel, an on-board computer autonomously drives CHIMP’s ability to avoid collisions, maintain its balance, and avoid harm. By having a human perform the high-level tasks while the robot performs low-level operations, Stentz explains that CHIMP is allowed to remain highly capable without the added complications of an entirely automated bot.


Simplicity, in this case, will be key to the robot’s successful performance at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, though it is hard to imagine CHIMP’s ingenious proficiency as anything near simple. Carnegie Mellon will also send another team, Team Steel, to compete at the Robotics Challenge Track B competition, which pins participants in a software-focused virtual contest. The final DRC event will be taking place next year where one team will walk away with a $2 million prize. Whatever the outcome, its appears as though DARPA is already succeeding in its goal of encouraging the development of innovative robotic solutions capable of overcoming a myriad of challenging tasks.



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