Could the right robot help prevent catastrophes like nuclear meltdown, or provide emergency relief in the wake of such disasters, able to traverse terrain, retrieve supplies, or shut off valves where no human could safely go? That’s the question posed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and part of the purpose of their Robotics Challenge is to see if any of the robots presented by 23 teams representing seven countries has that kind of potential. And to the winners go the spoils — DARPA puts up $3.5 million worth of federally funded prize money, enough to give the most promising candidates a strong boost in realizing their potential.
Bucky McMahon reports on the DARPA Robotics Challenge for GQ, painting a picture of the 2-day competition held in Pomona, California:
“Hundreds of the world’s best and brightest young men—roboticists are almost exclusively male—are on the task here at the DRC, taking the leap of faith that rescue robots can be made effective and will be needed for some future shitstorm. Until then, what we’ve got is apocalypse planning disguised as good clean competition. Whenever a robot freezes out on the course, as if in fear or confusion, the little robotics fans begin their chant, a mix of frustration and glee: ‘Go, robot, go! Go, robot, go!…'”
For more of McMahon’s reporting, featuring a robot named Running Man (who walks “with the deliberate gait of a constipated gunslinger”) along with a broader look at how advances in this technology could change the way we go to war, click over to GQ.