Well, this is definitely interesting! In the spirit of the DARPA Grand Challenges for driverless vehicles, DARPA has apparently decided that those vehicles, do, indeed need drivers. The next challenge is to create humanoid robots that can drive cars. The fun begins on Oct. 1, 2012, the final demonstrations are due to be by the end of 2014.
Interestingly, Boston Dynamics – the company that has created agile 4-legged robots mules and a faster robot (admittedly running on bent metal knees)
This follows on the move by the US Navy to create humanoid robots which can fight fires, drawing on the Virginia Tech robots:
Once again, DARPA seems to have see where robots can go. In the 2005 challenge which I participated in (until semi-finals, at least) they had a lot of interest in innovate robotics that didn’t follow standard artificial intelligence engineering guidelines. The winner of the 2005 challenge, Stanley, didn’t used Ai to move -instead it ran stats on multiple, non-camera sensors and was “trained” to react to sensor patterns. DARPA’s willingness to support large numbers of entries indicates a flexibility of thinking that could move humanoid robotics beyond the run it has been stuck in ever since the Asimo debuted back in 2000.
What remains to be seen if the ambitious goals can actually be realized. Part of the DARPA spec is that the humanoid can sit in the car and drive, possibly even turning around to look through the windshield. This is not going to be easy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a robot trying to look behind itself for any reason, much less one that involves grasping a seat, balancing, and swiftly moving vision between the front and back.This implies a highly flexible neck or upper body, again something I haven’t seen much of in humanoids.
That alone might be worth the $2 million grand prize – peanuts, really, considering the amount of money we spend on other things. The cost of a single Space Shuttle launch might sponsor 50 of these kinds of challenges.
So, instead of “robots that jump” we will have “robots that rubberneck”.