The future of robotics is here

I’m a Patrick Henry student, and was selected to be the student representative for Polaris at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals in Pomona, California in early June. This experience of a lifetime put me mere feet from some of the best robots that currently exist in the world.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was founded in 1958 by President Eisenhower to advance the United States’ technology. Since then the goal has adjusted, as the recent DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) showed. Dr. Gill Pratt began the DRC in response to the 2011 Japan earthquake/tsunami and the meltdown of the Fukishima Nuclear Plant. He realized that much less damage could’ve been done if robots could have assisted in disaster relief. The program challenge was released in 2012, drawing in people for its prize of $2 million for the winner. Over the past three years, trial and qualification events weeded out the less successful robots until it was June 5, the day of the finals.

That weekend was the big culmination of three years’ work for the participating teams, as they now had to complete an entire disaster relief course, not just bits and pieces as had been done in the past. The course contained eight parts: driving a Polaris RANGER down a course, exiting the vehicle, opening a door, turning a valve shut, cutting a hole in drywall, completing a mystery task, navigating a rubble course, and climbing a set of stairs. Each robot had one hour to complete the course.

The winning robot was DRC-Hubo, belonging to Team Kaist from South Korea. This robot was able to complete the tasks efficiently and quickly as it scored all eight points in only 44 minutes. This robot actually did look and operate like a human, with arms, legs and hands. Seeing DRC-Hubo really opened my eyes as to what robotics will be in the next few years.

My role as a student representative for Polaris at the DRC was to share my experiences on social media, and learn from the best robotics minds in the industry. This trip was truly one I will never forget, as I learned so much about the future of robotics. The crashless drones and humanoid robots that I interacted with are just a sample of what robotics is going to become, and I’m excited to see what the next 10 years will bring. I’m very thankful that Polaris selected me to go on this trip, as it has really opened my eyes to a future of engineering. I’m going to end with the advice that Dr. Gill Pratt gave me after an interview I had with him, “Never give up on your dreams.”