Robot Olympics Start Today at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

Seventeen Robots are competing for a spot in next year's finals.

ByABC News
December 20, 2013, 4:26 PM

Dec. 20, 2013— -- While the world's best skiers and skaters will be competing in Sochi less than two months from now, the world's most advanced robots have headed for warmer weather and are competing in Miami.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials begin today, putting 17 humanoid robots through their own version of an octathalon.

The event, held at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, will put the autonomous robots through their paces across eight different tasks, including walking across rocky terrain, climbing up a ladder and clearing debris. Matt DeDonato, the team leader for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) robot Warner, said that he's particularly proud of one task.

"For the vehicle task, the robot has control over the steering and the brakes," he told ABC News. "We still have some problems on getting the robot to exit the vehicle, but it's one of the tasks that looks really cool."

While several teams will be bringing robots they made from scratch, DeDonato and his colleagues will be using an Atlas, one of Boston Dynamics' humanoid robots. "WPI competed in the DARPA virtual challenge," he said. "We wrote a bunch of code, ran it, and came in second. The reward for that was the Atlas and funding."

But coding how a robot performs in the virtual world doesn't often translate to the physical world. "We can do a lot with simulations, but it's a big disconnect from reality," said DeDonato. "If we had more time, we could do better, but I'm sure every team feels that way."

The trials will take place over two days, but even after they're over, the most successful teams won't have much time to relax. "Next year is the DARPA Grand Challenge," said DeDonato. "It's going to be set up more like a disaster scenario, with the robot performing each task one after another."

The DRC Trials can be seen on YouTube.