DARPA unveils upgraded Atlas robot


Atlas

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has unveiled the newly upgraded Atlas robot at an event in Waltham, Massachusetts, US.

Atlas is scheduled to be used by seven teams during the final event of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), which aims to develop human-supervised robotic technology for disaster response operations.

The upgraded robot retains only the lower legs and feet of the original design developed by Boston Dynamics, and has been fitted with a 3.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack for one hour of mixed mission operations and a variable-pressure pump system.

DARPA DRC programme manager Gill Pratt said: "The introduction of a battery and variable-pressure pump into Atlas poses a strategic challenge for teams.

"The operator will be able to run the robot on a mid-pressure setting for most operations to save power, and then apply bursts of maximum pressure when additional force is needed.

"The teams are going to have to game-out the right balance of force and battery life to complete the course."

Weighing 345lb, the 1.88m-tall robot features repositioned shoulders and arms, new electrically actuated lower arms, resized actuators in the hip, knee and back, as well as a wireless emergency stop for safe operation.

Three perception computers have been added for assistance in perception and task planning. In addition, a wireless router in the head enables untethered communication.

As their robots have identical hardware, the Atlas teams have to differentiate themselves through software, control interfaces and strategy.

The robots will be delivered with a battery emulator to the teams and are likely to be kept connected to fall arrestors during much of the remaining months of training as a safeguard against premature damage.

"The upgraded robot retains only the lower legs and feet of the original design developed by Boston Dynamics."

Scheduled to be held on 5 and 6 June at Fairplex in California, US, the DRC event requires competing robots to operate without power cords, fall arrestors or wired communications tethers, and to recover and continue with the tasks without any hands-on assistance in the event of a fall.

In addition, the robots have to advance on their own as DARPA will intentionally degrade communications between them and human operators to replicate the conditions they would face into a disaster zone.

At least 20 teams are expected to compete in the finals. The winning team will receive a $2m grand prize, followed by $1m and $500,000 to the runner-up and third-placed team respectively.


Image: The upgraded Atlas robot is scheduled to be used by seven teams in the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Photo: courtesy of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.