Most defense procurement programs take years and involve millions of dollars, but Robotics Fast Track (RFT) has a goal of developing prototypes and proofs of concept within a year for an average of $150,000 per project. Thanks in part to open-source software and 3-D printing, rapid prototyping can be easier than ever.
“Lots of smart people have good ideas for advancing the state of the art but aren’t ready to invest the time and effort necessary to navigate the government’s traditional contracting mechanisms,” said Brian Gerkey, CEO and founder of the nonprofit Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), which is promoting the program with DARPA.
DARPA wants RFT to jumpstart a public/private community for national security robots and build toward a potential program that would have “funding levels at least an order of magnitude larger.” The areas of interest include the following:
- Expansion and augmentation of commercial off-the-shelf technologies
- Use of open source, open standards, and rapid prototyping capabilities
- Technologies to improve robots’ agility, speed, endurance, and range
- Advanced capabilities related to robotic sensing, perception, planning, and communication
- Technologies that could apply to military operational domains (air, ground, maritime, and/or space) and/or mission areas (including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, situational awareness, and humanitarian assistance/disaster response)
- Technologies that could apply to complementary non-military, national security missions, such as law enforcement and emergency response
“We spend too much time creating three- to four-year solutions for six-month problems,” said Mark Micire, a DARPA program manager. ?We want this new generation of robotics innovators to see DARPA as a partner that can help them develop breakthrough technologies. ? We?re eager to pioneer this new approach, which could lead to rapid, marked improvements in national security as a whole.?
Agencies interested in RFT include the U.S. Army, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Navy. Federal contractor BIT Systems is providing guidance to potential participants that may not be familiar with federal contracting. All who are interested can apply online.
“The goal is for successful proposals to take less than a month from submission to contract signing,” said Micire. The projects would still comply with Federal Acquisition Regulations.
Promotion at Robotics Challenge
In addition, the OSRF will have representatives to promote RFT at the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals in Pomona, Calif., on June 5 and 6, 2015. This year, 25 teams will be competing on a simulated disaster-response course to see whose robots are best at flipping an emergency shut-off switch, getting up from a prone position, moving 10 meters without falling, passing over a barrier, and rotating a circular valve 360 degrees.
More on Military Robotics
Teams will be coming from research institutions and robotics companies from around the world, including from Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and across the U.S. The top prize is $2 million, and DARPA will award $3.5 million total.