Japan didn't wait until the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games to show the world that it had its eyes set on Olympic gold.
Schaft Inc., a Japanese company, won the prestigious DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials this weekend, beating out 15 other humanoid robots at the Homestead-Miami speedway.
The two-day trials put the robots through a series of eight events that simulate the type of tasks a robot would need to perform in a disaster scenario. Each event had three objectives, a point each, and teams could earn an additional bonus point if their robots could perform the task without any intervention from humans. Schaft earned 27 points, while the second-place team IHMC Robotics earned 20.
Five of the tasks were variations of getting from point A to point B, including climbing a ladder, walking across rocky terrain, opening doors, removing debris blocking their path, and even driving a car through a mini obstacle course. The remaining three events were hands-on tasks: turning valves, unrolling a hose, and cutting out a triangle in a piece of drywall with a cordless drill.
Tony Stentz, the leader of the third-place team Tartan Rescue, said that overall he was impressed with how all the competitors performed at the trials. "On average, they did a lot better than I thought they would," he told ABC News today.
The eight top-scoring teams at the DRC Trials all received $1 million each from DARPA to improve their robots for the DRC finals, which will take place next year around the same time of year. But instead of an octathalon-like event, the robots will be expected to perform each task in succession. "I think you're going to see teams work on improving their speed," said Stentz. "They're going to work on making these robots even more autonomous and less reliant on their operators."
But the Schaft Inc. team might have a significant leg up on their competitors for the upcoming finals. The company was acquired by Google earlier this year. In light of Google's recent purchase of Boston Dynamics, both Schaft's and Google's future in robotics is looking very bright.