We’re only a few months away from the final stage of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), and the Boston Dynamics Atlas robot has gotten a major update in preparation. Approximately 75% of the robot is new, including redesigned arms and an on-board battery pack for untethered operation. That’s the big change for this final round of the competition — all robots (as many as 20 competitors are expected) must operate wirelessly.
The only parts of the new Atlas that were carried over from the old design are the lower legs and feet. The team used lighter materials to keep the weight down as it would no longer have an unlimited supply of power delivered by a tether. The new wireless Atlas contains a 3.7kWh Li-ion battery pack that can keep the robot moving for about an hour (the length of the DRC event).
Along with the new power supply, Boston Dynamics also designed a variable-pressure pump that allows Atlas to move around without using as much energy. It’s also much quieter, eliminating the need for hearing protection. Apparently the old Atlas was super-loud. They don’t usually include that in the videos. Much of the contest will hinge on how well the robot can manipulate objects, so Boston Dynamics repositioned the robot’s shoulders so the operator will have more workspace in front of the robot and a better view of what’s going on. The wrists will also get an extra degree of freedom before the competition.
Seven teams are expected to use Atlas robots from Boston Dynamics (now owned by Google). The DRC is a test not only of hardware, but the software each of these teams use to differentiate themselves.
The final stage of the DRC will take place June 5 and 6, with the winning team getting a $2 million prize. The hour-long series of trials will test each robot’s ability to operate in a world designed for humans. Operators will have no contact with their robots after the start of the challenge. If for example the robot falls down, it must be able to right itself. DARPA will also mess with competitors by intentionally disrupting their communication with the robots in order to test the robot’s response to communication blackouts. If it goes on a killing spree, it’ll lose some points.