December 22, 2013      

Andy can sure pick ’em

The company that desperately needed a cash infusion, got it. Google scored a cool $1 millionin development money as its newly acquired humanoid robot took top honors at this weekend’s DARPA Robotics Challenge.

shaft the man

Awkward-looking yet surprisingly sure footed and quite strong, Schaft easily outpaced its fifteen rival humanoids to win DARPA’s quest to create a robot that can be useful in rescue operations (think, Fukushima).

Operations abound for humanoid robots

In fact, updating clean-up chores at that ill-fated nuclear facility has Tepco (owners of Fukushima Daiichi) in the process of removing 1,300 spent fuel assemblies from the top of reactor No. 4, with a reported 1,973 workers already with estimated thyroid radiation doses in excess of 100 mSv (millisievert) — the level at which many physicians agree the risk of developing cancer begins to rise.

Wouldn’t a crew of SCHAFTs look real nice doing that job instead? Well, that?s one of the motivations behind DARPA’s humanoid challenge.

Remember what such a Grand Challenge (2004 and 2005) did for autonomous vehicles? The results of that are today cruising Nevada’s highways.

Schaft and its developers pull off big win

The final score board showed a clear winner, way ahead of the rest of the competitors. Of a possible 32 points to be had in the 32-minute contest, Schaft scored 27; nearest competitor was Florida University System’s IHMC Robotics with 20. No other humanoid came closer than 18 points.

How the scoring went

The scoring was one point for each of four sub-tasks successfully completed. With a total of eight tasks, the scoring maximum was 32.

scores shaft

Although Schaft did well, the robot was slow. In fact, they were all slow, each taking its time with slow movements following long pauses while each of the robot’s handlers planned the next movement. But, the same could be said of the entrants in the DARPA 2004 challenge for autonomous vehicles.

Schaft is the product of Japanese startup, SCHAFT Inc., founded in 2012 as a spin-off of the University of Tokyo’s Jouhou System Kougaku (JSK) Laboratory, which develops, manufactures, and sells humanoid robots and its component technology.

SCHAFT, acquired by Google in December of 2013, entered its off-the-shelf HRP-2 robot which is surprisingly more able than the previous star of the show, the Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot.

Reports from the scene at Homestead, Fla., said that “with its strange wide body it doesn’t look too convincing, but it seems to be stable and the arms seem very up to the job of complex manipulations.”

What’s next?

As many as eight teams will receive up to one million dollars to continue on to the next stage.

Google is already the odds on favorite (owning both Schaft and Boston Dynamics) to be the No. 1 contender in next year’s trials.

See related: Lineup of DARPA challengers