The DARPA Robotics Challenge, Where Beauty Meets The Beast (And Mankind Meets Its Fate) | VALID | #TWIBnation

The DARPA Robotics Challenge, Where Beauty Meets The Beast (And Mankind Meets Its Fate)

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known to the world as DARPA (the folks that brought you GPS and the Internet), is currently hosting the DARPA Robotics challenge in Miami, Florida. According to the DRC website, “Participating teams, representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline to develop . . . their robots to complete a series of challenge tasks selected by DARPA for their relevance to disaster response,” making this one of the focal points for advancements in the field of robotics. Or, perhaps more accurately, the birthplace of the robot apocalypse. Only hindsight will reveal the truth of the the latter, but don’t think I’ll hesitate for a moment to say “I told you so” when we’re all in chains.

All of the entries in the DRC are fantastic, straight out of the World of Tomorrow. No matter who wins, there’s no doubt that the advancements made here will shape the field of robotics for years to come. Beyond the technologies on display here, it seems like the public-private partnerships developed here will continue to grow long after the competition is over. I certainly hope that’s the case, anyway; the opportunities to keep working together seem too good to pass up, especially in such an insular industry as this. Two entrants in particular seem as if they could greatly benefit from one another’s experience and perspective: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Boston Robotics.

NASA’s entry in the DRC, dubbed “Valkyrie” by its creators, is a stunning work of beauty. With smooth, graceful lines and a white and gold exterior, the visual aesthetic for this machine is incredible. She looks like something out of Gundam or Robotech, for chrissake. How awesome it that? At the same time, what Valykrie has in form she’s lacking in function, as demonstrated in the video. Her range of movement is good, but both her movement and her response times are slow. While things like modular arms and legs and a replaceable battery pack are freakin’ brilliant ideas, without improving Valkyrie’s operational effectiveness, those advantages becomes less, well . . . advantageous.

Meanwhile, Boston Robotics is making leaps and bounds in the functionality of robots with “Atlas“, but the thing is an absolute monstrosity. With its chunky exoskeleton, covered with wires and pistons and cameras, Atlas is straight-up terrifying, a technological monster straight out of “The Matrix”. Sure, it can run, it can climb, it can do freakin’ yoga . . . but it can also haunt your dreams from here to eternity. If that’s the future of robotics, just stick me in the nutrient bath and plug me in, already. *shivers* Speaking of plugs, Atlas isn’t battery-powered as of yet (thankfully), making his range limited to how many extension cords you can string together. For the moment, anyway.

Together, NASA and Boston Robotics have an opportunity to create robots as elegant as they are effective, as graceful as they are powerful. Not only that, but in our current political climate, their partnership would also make for a moving testament to how cooperation between public and private enterprise can actually serve to innovate and inspire. So please, you two, get hooked up, already. Because seriously, if we’re ultimately going to be enslaved by robot overlords, they better be pretty, at least.

Randle Aubrey

View all contributions by Randle Aubrey

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