PITTSBURGH- team from Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center is building a new class of robot to compete in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Robotics Challenge -- a human-size robot that moves, not by walking, but on rubberized tracks on the extremities of each of its four limbs.
Though the appearance of the CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform, or CHIMP, is vaguely simian, its normal mode of locomotion will be much like that of a tank, with the tracks of all four limbs on the ground. This configuration would offer a particular advantage when moving over debris and rough terrain. But CHIMP also can move on the treads of just two limbs when needed, such as when it must use one or more limbs to open a valve, or to operate power tools.
CHIMP will have to do that and more during the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), in which robots will have human-like capabilities to respond to calamities such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Climbing ladders and driving vehicles are among the obstacles robots will face in environments engineered for people.
The NREC entry, Tartan Rescue Team, is one of seven selected by DARPA for DRC Track A, in which each team will develop its own hardware and software. The team has launched a new website, www.tartanrescue.org, with details about CHIMP, team members and sponsors.
CHIMP will be able to perform complex, physically challenging tasks through supervised autonomy. A remote, human operator will make high-level commands controlling the robot's path and actions, while the robot's on-board intelligence prevents collisions, maintains stability and otherwise keeps the robot from harm. The robot also will be pre-programmed to execute tasks such as grasping a tool, stepping on a ladder rung or turning a steering wheel without step-by-step direction from the human controller, circumventing the lag between command and execution.
"Humans provide high-level control, while the robot provides low-level reflexes and self-protective behaviors," said Tony Stentz, NREC director and Tartan Rescue Team leader. "This enables CHIMP to be highly capable without the complexity associated with a fully autonomous robot."
"This type of robot has tremendous potential," he added. Such a robot would be suitable for a variety of tasks for which NREC now develops wheeled, tracked and other conventional robots, such as remote inspection and monitoring of hazardous industrial facilities. A unit of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, NREC performs advanced applied research and prototyping for commercial and governmental clients.