Atlas is a humanoid robot designed to negotiate rough terrain. (DARPA)
Like the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” in search of a brain, DARPA’s recently introduced Atlas robot is essentially a physical shell for the software brains and nerves now under development by a variety of teams that were part of the agency’s Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC).
The 6-foot-2-inch, 330-pound robot was constructed by Boston Dynamics in Waltham, Mass. The VRC teams have until late December to teach Atlas the tasks it will need to perform in next year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge trials, where robots will have to complete a series of movements and jobs similar to what might be required in a disaster-response scenario.
A variety of software algorithms were developed as part of the VRC, and DARPA says they should transfer with minor tuning to the Atlas hardware. The software, and the actions of a human operator through a control unit, will guide the robot’s suite of sensors, actuators, joints and limbs that include an onboard real-time control computer; hydraulic pump and thermal management systems; two arms, two legs, a torso and a head; 28 hydraulically actuated joints; sensor head with LIDAR and stereo sensors from Carnegie Robotics; and two sets of hands, one provided by iRobot and one by Sandia National Labs.
VRC teams in the competition represent the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Pensacola, Fla.; Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; TRACLabs Inc., Webster, Texas; Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; and Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.