Team ViGIR at DARPA Robotics Challenge

Team ViGIR is a team consisting of members from Virginia Tech, Technische Universität Darmstadt and TORC.

darpa DRC scenario

They will be taking part in Track B in the DARPA Robotics Challenge where they will use the PETMAN instead of developing their own robot. The task are shown in the chart above. TORC Robotics will take the lead developing the algorithms required for the humanoid to perform during the competition.

TORC has developed autonomous navigation kits for vehicles and they develop components for autonomous vehicles. Teleoperation with autonomy of vehicles is one technology that they have that will improve the usability of PETMAN robot. TU Darmstadt‘s Simulation, Systems Optimization and Robotics group will join the team. They have developed autonomous robot team and researched in dynamic modelling and optimisation methods in simulation. Last but not the least important is the Human-Computer Interaction Group from Virginia Tech. The team consist of groups with different expertises that make them suited for Track B.

Sliding Autonomy is a buzz word that is used widely in this competition and some feel that this will make the difference between the various teams. This is important as robots are still unable to perform robustly in the given scenario. Human intervention is still required and this is allowed during this competition. This makes it interesting when some form of autonomy is given to the robot but there are of course situations human teleoperation might be more suited. It’s about striking a balance depending on the capability of the robots. In Track B, all teams will use the PETMAN which means that they can concentrate on developing algorithms and teleoperation capabilities for use with the PETMAN. This is certainly a scenario that makes more sense today, as we take the first step away from teleoperating “dumb” robots. Heaphy Robotics was an initiative by Willow Garage a while back (watch video below) that allowed people from around the world to gain control of the PR2 to perform task without their premises. As seen in the video, you could either take full manual control over the robot or allow the robot some form of autonomy. That’s a good example of sliding autonomy.


Team Steel at DARPA Robotics Challenge

DARPA Robotics Challenge is the next grand challenge that’s really getting most of the robotics community on their toes. The goal of this program is to develop ground robots that are able to operate in degraded human-engineered environments performing complex task such as opening a valve, climb a ladder or even drive a car. This is in response to the difficulties faced by robots deployed during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident. That revealed a lot about the current capabilities of the robots in the market today. It’s not that the robots are incapable but it’s a matter about using the wrong tool for the job.

Team Steel, led by Christopher Atkeson, is one of the two CMU teams taking part in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. They have selected to take part in Track B (using a DARPA-provided robot, the PETMAN) while their counterparts (TARTAN RESCUE, lead by Tony Stentz)  have chosen to take part in track A where members of that team will develop a robot of their own.


They have worked on the Sarcos Humanoid Robot, a robot similar to the PETMAN. They will implement some learning methods and interesting techniques for their robot. This will definitely be beneficial to the other team given CMU has fielded 2 teams in this competition.


Latest Update on Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog

This is the latest update on the Big Dog or the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). Sensors and a touch screen is now mounted on the front of the robot with a rounded base to allow it to better recover from a fall or rest position. The Dog now has a LIDAR and a stereo camera that allows for better perception of the environment and the people around it. to With the added hardware, the robot is now able to perform human following and it should be moving towards making decisions that will make it more useful than a mule. Another improvement is that the robot is now quieter than the older version. This is a really stable platform for the given environment. Kudos to Boston Dynamics.

These slides give an overview of the Big Dog.

Inflatable Robot by iRobot


The AIRarm is a robot arm developed by iRobot with funding from DARPA. It is inexpensive as compared with an arm of similar size and lightweight as well. It weighs around 1/10th of the weight of the PackBot 3’s arm. The best part is that it can be easily deflated and kept. A pump is located onboard that allows it to inflated and deflated. Despite its light weight, AIRarm is still pretty stiff once inf, and can lift up to five pounds, or possibly more depending on how much its inflated. By varying the level of inflation, it’s also possible to vary the level of compliance of the arm: this makes the arm a little bit flexible when you need it to be, which in turn makes it safer and more durable. The same construct is used to develop a six legged robot as well.









Source – IEEE Spectrum