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25 teams prepare for 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals

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On June 5 and 6, the 2015 DARPA Robotic Challenge (DRC) Finals will take place at Fairplex in Pomona, California. Open to the public, it will see 25 international teams compete for US$3.5 million in prizes as part of an effort to develop robots for disaster relief. Here's what to expect.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge was inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster following the Japanese tsunami of 2011, when the general devastation prevented workers from reaching and operating the valves that could have prevented the gas explosion that damaged the reactors. Though robots were eventually brought to the site, they were slow to go into action because of the challenging learning curve and the degraded communications infrastructure.

This led DARPA to start a competition designed to spur development of semiautonomous robots capable of acting as teammates for disaster workers rather than tools. A virtual challenge with 26 teams using simulated robots kicked things off in June of 2013. This was followed in December 2013 by a physical challenge with 16 teams using real robots kept upright by safety tethers as they negotiated obstacle courses and carried out tasks using the tools at hand rather than specialized attachments.

This year's challenge will see 25 teams competing. Half of the teams are from the United States, five are from Japan, three from Korea, two from Germany, one from Italy, one from Hong Kong, and one from the People’s Republic of China. They will be vying for a US$3.5 million total of prizes; including a $2 million first prize, a $1 million second prize, and a $500,000 third prize. The robots will be of a wide variety with some humanoid, some four-legged, and some tracked, but all will need to operate free of external power, mechanical support, and limited communications with their controllers.

The basic idea behind DRC 2015 is to make things much harder for the robots than previously.

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