It isn’t even 5 feet tall, but the blue-limbed worker known as SCHAFT is getting an outsized amount of attention these days on the web and in print. That’s because SCHAFT is the top candidate to win the $2 million DARPA Robotics Challenge. It also could be a prototype for your staff one day.
SCHAFT—product of a Japanese/American firm of the same name recently acquired by Google—garnered its fame its fame by winning the trials phase of the challenge last December. Over two days, it walked over ramps and concrete blocks, opened doors, cleared a pile of 2x4s, drove a small vehicle, connected a fire hose, shut off valves, and even climbed a ladder. (Watch him at work.) The finals, to be held between December 2014 and June 2015, will present even tougher tests.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the same Pentagon outfit credited with creating much of the foundation for today’s Internet. Now it’s sponsoring the Robotics Challenge to encourage the creation of robots that can work in hazardous conditions and disaster sites. Of course, many remodeling sites aren’t that much different from disaster areas, especially when they’re undergoing demolition, so SCHAFT’s potential on the job site is apparent. It and the other competitors still need a lot of electronic hand-holding to do their work, but improvements are coming quickly; one part of the finals competition calls for the robots to be able to work even when communications with human handlers gets spotty.