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Robotics The Military Technology

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Was a Bust; Let's Try Again 35

malachiorion writes: The DARPA Robotics Challenge, the biggest and most well-funded international robotics competition in years, was a failure. After years of grueling work on the part of brilliant roboticists around the world, and millions in funding from the Pentagon, the finals came and went with little to no coverage from the mainstream media. The only takeaway, for those who aren't extremely dialed into robotics, is that a ton of robots fell down in funny ways. There were winners, but considering how downgraded the tasks were, compared to the ones initially announced in 2012, it was closer to the first DARPA Grand Challenge, where none of the robot cars finished, than the Urban Challenge, which kicked off the race to build deployable driverless cars. So just as DARPA regrouped after that first fizzle of a race, here's my argument for Popular Science: It's time to do it again, and make falling, and getting up, mandatory.
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The DARPA Robotics Challenge Was a Bust; Let's Try Again

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  • Not a failure (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rathinam ( 94705 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @03:59PM (#50057061)

    It is too harsh to call it a failure. After watching many hours of video footage, I would judge it most certainly NOT a failure, but a good first step. Yes, many robots fell down. Yes, it would be nice to make a requirement for them to get up -- and at least one did in the *competition*, if i recall correctly. The tiny robot an Asian student was *demonstrating* (he didn't speak much English) got up amazingly fast since he designed it in.

    It is understandable that DARPA reduced the difficulty in this first baby step of the competition. What would you rather have, (a) very difficult tasks so that no team can complete all tasks, or (b) difficult enough so not *all* teams can complete all tasks, but some can? I'd choose (b) every time, since it results in encouragement to take the next step in the development. There are many other benefits if you think about it for a minute or two.

    • I have to agree. The goal was to encourage development. The program was a complete success. It does not matter if anyone succeeded at all the tasks.

    • Re:Not a failure (Score:4, Informative)

      by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @04:36PM (#50057463)

      As I tell my 12 year old son:

      You don't learn anything when you win the game of chess, you learn something when you lose.

      A bit oversimplified, but the point is that you learn by rising to the challenge, not just by your success.

      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        You don't learn anything when you win the game of chess

        As any chess pro will tell you, post game analysis often reveals things not noticed during the game. You look at the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, replaying some or all of the game and discussing it with the opponent. One of the most difficult things for humans to do is to learn from other peoples mistakes, often having to repeat them for themselves.

    • The goal was to complete the challenge. They ALL failed. It was a failure, this isn't debatable.

      That doesn't mean nothing was gained, many things were learned certainly, but it was still a failure of its goal.

      In my opinion it was a massive failure because pretty much none of those robots could adapt to an unexpected task (getting up) at all, and it's pretty much impossible that no one knew their bot would fall down.

      Every contestant was pitifully unprepared, so EPIC FAIL if you ask me.

    • Weren't the robots constrained to something like 100w of computing power? IMO (and this is kinda my field also) there should be more human interaction and doing the things that humans do, and can do, best and let the robot concentrate on the more tractable yet still unsolved portions of the problem.

      Eg, instead of having the robot climb over obstacles and navigate a maze, have a human operator chart the best way through the maze over the least dangerous debris. The robot still has to determine how to move

  • ... until at least sometime after the Year 3000. We already have the video evidence that robots of the future struggle to get up when placed on their backs (
  • I went for one morning of the competition, and there was a LOT of standing around and waiting time. Even when the robots were in action, they would take very long pauses in the midst of the narrowly defined activity they were performing.(and yes, sometimes simply falling over during the pauses). It would have been hard to pick more than a few seconds of footage that would have made it into the news.(mostly the falling over clips)

  • ...let's not and say we did.

  • Watching the "compilation of robots falling down" video was quite uncomfortable, because many of them reminded me of my father, who has Parkinson's Disease. I wonder if there is anything to be learned from the similarity. Probably not.

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