The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has been holding the ongoing DARPA Robotics Challenge, to see who can build the best disaster response robot.
Teams representing universities including Caltech and MIT, as well as private companies develop the hardware, software and control interfaces necessary to have their robots perform specified tasks.
During the trials, robots are scored on "driving a four-wheel vehicle, traversing uneven terrain after leaving the vehicle, opening doors, clearing rubble, climbing steep stairs and cutting holes in walls," said DRC project manager Andrew Moore. "The trials are designed to spur the development of innovative robot hardware and software technologies that ultimately might be used to reduce hazards to human rescue teams, prevent additional destruction and save lives."
Schaft, a Japanese robotics firm, and Boston Dynamics, creators of the popular BigDog and WildCat robots, were already involved in the DRC when Google acquired them.
Schaft’s bipedal robot earned the highest score at the trials last year, and Boston Dynamic’s ATLAS has been called "one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built."
Both Schaft and Boston Dynamics' work had previously been funded through DARPA grants, but Google, a company that’s recently butted heads with the U.S. Government over privacy concerns raised by NSA spying programs, has decided to reject all Pentagon money.
"Team Schaft...has elected to switch to the self-funded Track D of the program," DARPA said in a statement Friday.
According to Gill Pratt, DRC program manager, "The decision by Team SCHAFT to self-fund allows DARPA to expand the competition and further develop disaster response robots,” adding that the money will now be used fund two additional teams' entries the DRC.