Watch 4 Robots Conquer a DARPA Finals Test Course

Team WPI-CMU, Team KAIST, Team MIT, and Team IHMC send their humanoid robots through a simulated course to preview what's to come in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals.

Photo Caption: An illustration of the obstacle course for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals.

The 24 robots in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals got a chance to walk through the obstacle course on Monday, leading up to the competition June 5-6 in Pomona, California.

The DRC competition kicked off in 2013 with a virtual event and a trial run after that using tethered robots. One of the main differences in the DRC Finals is that the robots will be completely untethered, meaning there won’t be cables to provide power or data or help keep the robots upright.

We profiled the 24 finalists, showing some of the robots even completing a task or two that they’ll face in the DRC Finals. During the finals, the robots will have one hour to complete eight tasks, getting two attempts at each task. One of those tasks will remain unknown until Friday, the first day of the competition.

All 24 finalists, undoubtedly, having been putting their robots through the ringer for months preparing for this moment. After all, there are bragging rights at stake and, oh yeah, a $2 million first-place prize. Some of the finalists recently released YouTube videos of their robots preparing for the finals by doing a test-run on a simulated course re-created at their facilities.

Is this a glimpse of which team might win the DRC Finals? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s a good preview of what’s to come this weekend and a glimpse into the capabilities and limitations of today’s humanoid robots.

Check out the videos below of Team WPI-CMU, Team KAIST, Team MIT, and Team IHMC.

Inside the DRC Finals Course

Here is DARPA’s description of each of the tasks the robots will face during the DRC Finals:

For the Drive task, the robot begins in the vehicle, drives through the course, and crosses the finish line. The vehicle being used is the Polaris Ranger XP 900. Teams are allowed five minutes with no tools to modify the vehicle to enable their robot to operate the Ranger more effectively. The robot will begin the run in the vehicle, with the key in the ignition, the vehicle turned on and running, and the vehicle in “high” gear (because it offers the smoothest start-up). The robot may operate the shift lever to change gear, but this is not required. To drive the vehicle, the robot needs to depress the accelerator and to rotate the steering wheel.

The driving section of the course consists of a set of orange and white pylons that block the straight part with additional barriers defining the boundaries of the course.

This task shall be considered complete when both rear wheels of the vehicle have crossed the finish line. If during the course of the run, any barrier moves because it was struck by either the vehicle or the robot, no point will be awarded for the task.

If a team chooses to not drive the vehicle, the robot may walk the distance to the finish line, but will not earn a point.


For the Egress task, the robot gets out of the vehicle, and travels dismounted to the end zone.  This task shall be considered complete when all parts of the robot in contact with the ground have entered the zone.  The robot may exit the vehicle from either side.

To get out of the vehicle, the robot is not required to move the shift lever from “drive” to “park,” although that would be prudent to prevent the vehicle from driving as the robot is getting out.

If a team requests a Reset during this task, the robot will be moved to the Reset area outside the door.


The Door task consists of one push door. For completion the robot must open the door and then travel through the open doorway.  This task shall be considered complete when all parts of the robot in contact with the ground have crossed a line on the floor on the far side of the door. The door will not have a threshold.  The task will take place on a flat surface. The DRC Finals will use a 36 inch doorway.  Note that when a 36 inch door frame opens, the true width with jamb and the side of door is approximately 33.5 inches.

The DRC Finals will use a lever-style handle that operates either by rotating downward or by rotating upward.

If a team requests a Reset during this task, the robot will be returned to the Reset area outside the door.


The Valve task consists of one valve with a circular handle with a diameter between 4 inches (10 cm) and 16 inches (40 cm).  The valve opens by counter-clockwise rotation. The task is considered compete when the robot has rotated the valve handle 360 degrees.

If a team requests a Reset during this task, the robot will be returned to the Reset area outside the door. There will be a bypass lane if a team chooses not to attempt this task.


For the Wall task, the robot will use a cordless drill to cut through wall boards to remove a prescribed shape. The wall material will be ½ inch thick drywall. There will be no obstruction or supports directly behind the cut pattern.

The task is to cut exclusively within the area to remove shape, while not cutting into the area outside the frame. Once the outside of the shaded areas are removed, the robot may push the drywall in an attempt to remove the red area. If the drywall is removed in this way, all breaks in the drywall must be within the margins described above.

Teams may choose between two types of cordless drill, of which both will have two fully-charged drills provided on a shelf in the workspace, both set to the highest speed. Drills will be OFF.  Bits will be pre-installed.  If one of the tools ceases to function (for example because the robot dropped it, or the bit broke), the robot may use another tool.

If a team requests a Reset during this task, the robot will be returned to the Reset area outside the door. There will be a bypass lane if a team chooses not to attempt this task.


The Surprise task will require manipulation and no mobility (except to get to and from the task site). The actual item will be disclosed to the teams the day before their run. The task may change each day.

If a team requests a Reset during this task, the robot will be returned to the Reset area outside the door. There will be a bypass lane if a team chooses not to attempt this task.


For the Rubble task, the robot will earn one point for successfully traversing either the debris field or the terrain field. The robot may traverse both fields; however, it will earn at most one point.

Visible lines will mark the boundary between terrain and rubble.  The task shall be considered complete when all contacts between the terrain and the robot occur in the end zone, or in other words, when no terrain/robot contact occurs in the final terrain segment.

The blocks will be laid out, as much as possible and practical, so that any holes face the side of the course rather than the start or end of the course.  The blocks will not be fastened to the ground.  Terrain may shift during a run.  Terrain that shifts will be restored to its initial state after a run but not during a reset.

For the Debris side of the task, the robot begins behind the start line, so that the debris lies directly between the start point and the finish.  A team needs to get to the other side by either moving the debris or getting over it. The debris pieces will be constructed of lightweight components, all less than 5 lbs.

If a Reset takes place during the task, all debris pieces will be left in place, and the robot will be returned to the Reset area outside the door.

There will be a bypass lane if a team chooses not to attempt this task.


For the Stairs task, the robot may only ascend, and may not descend. The stairway has a rail on the left side and no rail on the right side.

The Stairs task shall be considered complete when all contact points lie on or above the top step. At the conclusion of the task, the run is complete.

The robot will be lowered to the ground by DARPA officials if needed.  If a team requests a Reset during this task, the robot will be returned to the Reset area outside the door.




About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.




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