These Rescue Robots Need Rescuing Themselves (Video)

These Rescue Robots Need Rescuing Themselves (Video)
Jonathan Zhou

Over the weekend, 25 teams from all over the world were pitted against in each in DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition designed to encourage—with $3.5 million dollars in cash prizes—the creation of rescue robots that could go into disaster areas too dangerous for humans, such as the site of the Fukushima nuclear reactors shortly after the meltdown.

“This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters,” Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, Director Arati Prabhakar said in a statement. 

The robots were tasked with navigating an obstacle course and performing the usual mundane duties one might find in a rescue mission: driving a car, walking over debris, opening a valve, and cutting a hole in a wall.

The robot designed by Team KAIST, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, won the challenge and the $2 million dollar first-prize, completing the obstacle course in 44 minutes, 28 seconds.

Of the 25 robots, only 3 were able to complete all 8 tasks, with the majority failing to perform more than half, and four teams did not accomplish even one—they were too busy falling down.

“These robots are big and made of lots of metal and you might assume people seeing them would be filled with fear and anxiety,” DARPA program manager Gill Pratt said in a statement. “But we heard groans of sympathy when those robots fell.” 

With the world growing ever more anxious about the existential threat of artificial intelligence and the rise of killer robots, the montage of awkward robots who can barely walk are a warm reminder that the machine apocalypse is, at the earliest, still decades away.