DARPA's Virtual Robotics Challenge Simulator Previewed

Monday, June 3, 2013

DARPA Robotics Challenge Simulator

DARPA Robotics Challenge
For the first part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, competitors need to prove themselves in the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC), in which teams compete through a computer simulation of a robot and the challenge tasks. For the last month, teams from around the world have been submitting entries to the VRC qualification event. Now the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) has released a preview of how the simulator, called Gazebo, works.

The goal of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is to generate groundbreaking research and development so that future robotics can perform the most hazardous activities in future disaster response operations, in tandem with their human counterparts, in order to reduce casualties, avoid further destruction, and save lives.

Within the coming months, the Challenge will test the participating Teams’ robots ability to work in rough terrain and their capacity to use human aids such as vehicles and hand tools in three events.

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To facilitate robot software development, DARPA is developing an open source simulation tool: the DRC Simulator. The Simulator will be populated with models of robots, robot components, and field environments and will be made available to organizations skilled in robotic software development. This simulator will help to expand the supplier base for ground robot systems (both hardware and software), increase capabilities, and in the future will help lower acquisition costs.

The simulation environment, called Gazebo and the tasks that teams will need to complete in the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC), later this month) has been developed by the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF).

To come up with these tasks, DARPA talked to disaster responders like firefighters, police, and nuclear engineers, asking them "what would you want a robot to be able to do?" In addition to things like walking over rubble and driving, a high priority was basic tool use and manipulation of hoses and valves, to get cooling water into a nuclear power plant after a disaster for example.

OSRF has put a lot of time into making Gazebo as close as possible to the real world. As a functional simulation the focus has been on the dynamics of the system, not the aesthetics, but the details even ensure that the simulated robots do not move perfectly smoothly, just as the real robots do. 

Gazebo is a 3D multi-robot simulator with dynamics. It is capable of simulating a population of robots, sensors and objects in a three-dimensional world. It generates both realistic sensor feedback and physically plausible interactions between objects (it includes an accurate simulation of rigid-body physics).

DRC Team ROBIL Simulation
The Israeli team ROBIL has posted a video here of their navigation strategy in the simulator.  

The VRC is scheduled to take place in a few weeks. Some of these teams could potentially win the opportunity to work with actual Bostom Dynamics' ATLAS robots at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials this December based on thier performance in the VRC.


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