Everything You Need to Know About Today's DARPA Robotics Challenge

By Matt Novak on at

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals kick off today in Pomona, California, with 24 teams from around the world competing for £2.29 million in prizes. We’re here at the event to bring you the latest robotic thrills and spills, but mostly to keep a lookout for any signs of a robot uprising.

Below we’ve got everything you need to know about today’s events, along with a live stream where you can watch the competition all day long.

What is it?

The DARPA Robotics Challenge is a competition hosted by the US Department of Defense in Pomona, California. Twenty-four teams from around the world (about half from the U.S.) have built robots that must complete a number of tasks. The course is set up to simulate a disaster scenario not unlike the Fukushima nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan in 2011.

The teams that are controlling their robots are in a completely separate area without a clear line of sight to keep an eye on their bots. And much like a disaster scenario, there’s built in radio interference between the team and the robot, meaning that the bots must act somewhat autonomously when communications links go down.

The teams have two tries at the course, once on Friday and again on Saturday. Their best score from either day is the one that will determine their chance at prizes.

When is it happening?

Right now! You can watch the livestream above Friday June 5th and Saturday June 6th. The first teams started this morning and the action will continue until about 11PM Friday. The second day of the competition starts at 1PM on Saturday and lasts the entire day as well. The awards ceremony is tentatively scheduled for 12AM on Sunday morning. Four identical courses are set up so that four teams are competing at the same time.

What do the robots have to do?

Each team has an hour to complete eight tasks with their robot:

  1. Drive a vehicle
  2. Exit the vehicle
  3. Open a door, enter a building
  4. Locate and close a valve
  5. Cut through a wall
  6. Surprise task
  7. Remove rubble or navigate the terrain
  8. Climb stairs

Are the finals harder than the trials?

You bet. During the trials each team had 30 minutes to complete each of the eight tasks. Now, all eight tasks must be done in an hour. During trials, the robots were also allowed to be hooked up to safety belays so that they wouldn’t be damaged should they fall. Now if the robot falls it has to either 1) pick itself up or 2) the team must incur a 10 minute penalty and go in and pick the robot up manually.

Wired communication between the teams and the robots was allowed during the trials. Now, not only does all communications have to be wireless, there’s periodic interference of up to 30 seconds where teams can’t directly control their robot.

Who’s competing?

There are 24 teams from around the world, some of which are sponsored by governments. You can read more about the teams here.

Wait, I thought there was supposed to be 25 teams?

Yep. The only team from mainland China had to drop out. The rumour is that the Chinese team couldn’t get their visas in time.

What are the prizes?

  • 1st prize - £1.3 million
  • 2nd prize - £650,000
  • 3rd prize - £327,000

Why should I care about stupid robots?

Because these robots are the great-grandparents of the robots that will no doubt lead the robot uprising one day. Today, disaster relief. Tomorrow, the world!