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DARPA Robotics Challenge: The Return of the Robots

Louis-Alexis Demers
by Louis-Alexis Demers. Last updated on Jul 06, 2015 9:25 AM
Posted on Jun 15, 2015 3:08 PM. 3 min read time

I could also have used “The Robots Strike Back” or even “A New Hope”. In fact, many titles could have suited this post about my participation at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). I came back with so many things to say about very different fields, maybe because DARPA itself wanted this challenge to be very diverse.



Robotics: A beacon for science and technology

Yes, the challenge was a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. But on the way, it was used to develop new technologies in robotics, to energize the links between the organizations working in robotics and, above all, to accelerate human-robot interactions, literally. Similar to the Space Race of the last century, Robotics is used nowadays to focus the energy of engineers and researchers and to attract young people to science fields.

Never too young to be grabbed by robotics

It is not surprising to note that many families were there to watch the competition, but also to visit the booths and to learn about robotics; what is its present state of the art and how it is done. The time I spent answering questions from young kids at Robotiq’s booth made me realize that kids want to learn and they like to see complex things. Installed on a Universal Robots, we set our 3-Finger Gripper to open and close randomly. This Gripper was used in the DRC by many teams. The people passing by were then able to see this Gripper up close and personal. They were able to put their arm in the Gripper and be grabbed by it. I saw a lot of kids leaving our kiosk with sparkles in their eyes, keyed up about robotics, having the unforgettable memory of having been touched by a robot hand.


Injured but still working

In addition to answering questions at the Robotiq kiosk and watching the challenge in the magnificent grandstand, I was also attending the DRC as a member of our support team. For those with whom I’ve already met, you know that I’m very proud to be a member of the Robotiq R&D team, as a Project Manager and a mechanical engineer, acting also as a designer in product development. It is very gratifying to see our creations used in other companies and to help people solve their manufacturing problems. But the feeling I got at the DRC was incredible, seeing humanoid robots counting on our hands to achieve their tasks. I was little anxious when these big 180 kg robots were falling on their hands due to the miscalculation of a step or an irregular movement. Even then, the most badly injured hand that we had to repair on Friday took second place for IHMC on Saturday, not bad after all!


Great memories and more to come

It is with a good feeling that I attended the workshops the day after the challenge. The title “From Better Robots to Better Futures” was well chosen. Even if we all agree that the robots competing during these two days were not ready to be sent into a disaster zone, they represent a huge leap from what we saw at the trials in 2013. Is anybody not aware of CHIMP getting up after having fallen down? I think this is what we should expect from robotics. Yes, we will have difficulties in reaching certain goals, but we will succeed in ways we hadn't expected too. This is what can materialize when great minds and robots work together to achieve a common goal.

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Louis-Alexis Demers
Written by Louis-Alexis Demers
Louis-Alexis is a project manager on Robotiq's R&D team.
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