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[DPRG] DARPA Grand Challenge

Subject: [DPRG] DARPA Grand Challenge
From: David Anderson davida at smu.edu
Date: Fri Dec 20 14:37:52 CST 2013

OK, I've now had a chance to watch the excellent CRASAR video and I 
think it makes my point quite elegantly.  All sorts of useful robotic 
devices in real world situations handling difficult environments.   
Really useful, valuable stuff, and definitely worth pursuing.  And none 
look even REMOTELY humanoid.

Looks like they are trying to do something useful in the real world with 
robotics rather than trying to match someone's Hollywood-inspired 
fantasy of what a robot should be.    Maybe the DARPA grey-beards need 
to spend some time in College Station... ;)


On 12/20/2013 02:19 PM, David Anderson wrote:
> On 12/20/2013 02:15 PM, Rud Merriam wrote:
>> Paul & David,
>> Right here in Texas at TAMU College Station  there is a group using 
>> robots for in disaster situations.
> Humanoid robots?
> That's all we're talking about here.  Not whether competitions are a 
> good thing nor whether robots are useful in disaster situations --- 
> they obviously are.
> best
> dpa
>> The DARPA Challenge is not so far fetched (or silly). Granted the 
>> CRASAR (http://crasar.org/) robots are not autonomous but they are 
>> leading the way toward autonomous operations. Robots from CRASAR have 
>> been deployed to incidents.
>>  After my experience with the NASA SRR, I think semi-autonomous is 
>> the next big step for planetary rovers and disaster incidents. This 
>> would have robots who can be assigned some tasks that are autonomous 
>> with over all control done remotely. Curiostiy actually did this a 
>> few months ago. It autonomously navigated through an are that was not 
>> easily visible from the Earth remote controllers. For the SRR, an 
>> example would be for remote control to position the rover in front of 
>> the sample but the sample would be picked up autonomously.
>> There is a long history of challenges advancing technology. Lindbergh 
>> crossed the Atlantic and won a prize. The X-Prize for repeated 
>> reusable space flight is another example.
>> The SRR prize pool is $1.5 million. Collectively there has probably 
>> been $500,000 spent by the teams. (That is a really wild guess.) No, 
>> I did not contribute significantly to that total,  primarily because 
>> I used all off-the-shelf hardware.
>> The SRR last June was an awesome experience. The 11 teams were all 
>> friendly and cooperative. We were happy to see a success by anyone no 
>> matter how small it might have been. One team blew a power supply the 
>> night before the challenge. Other teams contributed a supply and 
>> worked with them to get it running. That team was the first to leave 
>> the  and return, unfortunately empty handed but it thought it had 
>> picked up a sample.
>> - 73 -
>> *Rud Merriam K5RUD
>> * /Mystic Lake Software <http://mysticlakesoftware.com/>
>> /
>> On 12/20/2013 12:57 PM, Paul Bouchier wrote:
>>> David,
>>> At the lowest level, I have to align with your assertion of silliness, but
>>> at a higher level, I think you're ignoring a big vision and know-how aspect
>>> (perhaps deliberately).
>>> The idea that robots should be humanoid has little merit IMHO for the
>>> reasons you state, and furthermore, disasters that are appropriate for
>>> application of relatively inflexible, unintelligent robots are few and far
>>> between. (Japan's reactor is the only one I can really think of - even the
>>> World Trade Center was done better IMHO with humans and dumb machines).
>>> Investing a huge amount of money preparing for some disaster that surely
>>> won't play out the way someone anticipates and that will render most robots
>>> inadequate would be flagrantly wasteful, if that was all that was going on.
>>> One of the popular collections of economic lessons (maybe The Naked
>>> Economist) has a story demonstrating that competitions with prizes are a
>>> very effective way of stimulating investment in an area. I think the example
>>> was rocketry, where a $1M prize stimulated $20M in investment; some teams
>>> invested twice the prize value in their entry. What was really at stake was
>>> knowhow and a market. The prize pulled together investment in a particular
>>> goal that was considered worthy. That investment included directing the
>>> research of PhD students and postgrads, from which much know-how resulted.
>>> In a similar way, the DARPA driving challenges stimulated research and
>>> investment that was going on anyway, but focused it on a particular goal and
>>> brought many teams together to work on the same goal at the same time. It
>>> was a concrete expression of a vision. I'm working with some folks who
>>> participated in those competitions, and it's clear that they gained a lot of
>>> know-how through that activity, and are propagating it into their work
>>> today.  Yes, companies and universities were working on self-driving cars
>>> before and after, but there wasn't the breadth of research and academic
>>> involvement that those challenges brought together and which resulted in
>>> algorithms and know-how in that area. You point out that Thrun's algorithms
>>> with which he won aren't in use anymore, but that's missing the point - they
>>> were a stepping stone to better things - a marker against which improvements
>>> could be measured. Without the focus that a competition brings, the markers
>>> would likely not exist or be well known. Now look at the time lag from the
>>> DARPA driving challenges (2004 - 2007) until autonomous vehicles are
>>> expected as products (2020) - 15 years. And we now have a concept for how
>>> the evolution will happen: gradually unloading the driver through driver
>>> assist features leading to mostly autonomous operation with high-level human
>>> supervision. These competitions are stimulants for long-term developments.
>>> You will surely argue that this would have happened anyway. Perhaps. Perhaps
>>> in the same timeframe, perhaps not. But it seems incontestable that the
>>> challenges brought together a lot of smart people focused on a specific
>>> problem at one time, from which they, and they community at large, learned a
>>> lot. Through this, I argue it was an accelerant.
>>> I think the present robot competition is that kind of thing. The specific
>>> goals are not as concrete or focused as self-driving cars, but neither are
>>> the tasks that robots working in human environments would have to do. Much
>>> must be discovered and developed, and a robot that can work in a simulated
>>> disaster (however hokey the scenario) will have to incorporate know-how that
>>> will have much broader applicability. The current grand challenge is
>>> bringing together researchers and engineers at one point in time who will go
>>> forth and apply that in broader contexts, hopefully many of a peaceful
>>> nature. As you would know, the national robotic roadmap calls for domestic
>>> robots to be reality in the 2030's (15 - 20 years away). That's the big
>>> vision requiring much know-how that I think is behind the present
>>> competition.
>>> Great topic and stimulating discussion!
>>> Regards
>>> Paul
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