News Article | August 19, 2015
If anyone is proud to be American, it's the co-founders of MegaBots Inc. "We wanted to be the Stephen Colbert of giant fighting robot sports," Brinkley Warren, one of the co-founders, as well as the company's producer and business developer, told Tech Times via e-mail. The juxtaposed images of futuristic fighting robots and comedic god Stephen Colbert, though slightly incongruous for those unfamiliar with the company, aren't too far off, especially for a company that designs and produces humanoid, cannon-sized paintball-blasting battlebots for the sheer entertainment value. MegaBots has made its name (and a viral video, to boot), as well as its (quite literal) battle robot designs on a goofy but thoroughly authentic sense of patriotic pride. This healthy sense of hubris has lead to MegaBots' newly launched Kickstarter campaign, an all-out effort to raise a minimum of $500,000 to revamp its current battlebot model (known as the Mark 2, or Mk. II). It has also launched an all-in-good-fun vendetta to defeat its sole nemesis Suidobashi Heavy Industries, a company headquartered in Japan, in a bot battle to defeat all bot battles – not to mention the first of its kind. So perhaps to say that MegaBots has one Colbert-related endgame is incorrect. Instead of having a singular vision, it's more like a three-pronged goal: to defeat Suidobashi's 13-foot battle bot, the Gatling gun-wielding Kuratas; to be, as mentioned, "the Stephen Colbert of fighting robots;" and to create and vitalize a new worldwide sensation. "Our long-term vision of MegaBots is to create the most compelling live action sports league in human history," said Warren. "We're blending the technology of F1 with the fights of UFC, to create a new sport with millions of fans in stadiums around the world cheering on their favorite pilots and robots in epic robot battles. The MegaBot League will allow countries from around the world to field their own team and compete for the ultimate in human-piloted robot glory." "We're a Silicon Valley startup – a bunch of Mega-Bros in a garage making the ultimate childhood toys a real thing and wanting really badly to prove to the world that this can happen and that we can do this," explained Warren, alluding to an admixture of their self-styled, caricatured, American hyper-masculinity and the absurdity it entails. "Our aesthetic is purely American and I think it's a pretty authentic take on what patriotism really means to our generation. We're proud to be Americans, but we're also keenly aware of how ridiculous America can be sometimes, and how nutty it must seem to foreigners." This dynamic is threaded throughout MegaBot's modern, filmic take on throwing down the gauntlet, and perfectly encapsulated by Warren's summary of not only the video, but what the company's almost satirical ethic is: "We seriously don't take ourselves too seriously, but Japan better take our robot seriously or the fight will be over as fast as you can sing the classic 'I'm Proud to be an American' by Billy Ray Cyrus. Seriously." In a like-minded fashion, Suidobashi responded to Cavalncanti, Oerhlein, Warren and company with a video of its own, captioned simply with "MegaBots, thank you for issuing the video." With a Japanese flag draped around his shoulders, Suidobashi founder and CEO Sogoro Kurata poked fun at the MegaBots creative duo's simultaneous bombastic and patriotic pride in Mk. II. "Come on, guys, make it cooler," said Kurata, followed by, "Just building something huge and sticking guns on it – it's ... Super American." In the end, Kurata accepted Cavalcanti and Oehrlein's challenge to duke it out in the robo ring. Hence, MegaBots' Kickstarter page. The Kickstarter showcases the company's donor prize packages, ranging from listing donor names on the website ($5), to a MegaBots Team USA shirt ($50), to a tour of the company's headquarters, complete with "an unveiling party the likes of which only San Francisco can provide" ($250) to the ultimate treasure trove, joining the pit crew on the day of reckoning itself ($5,000). Within 24 hours, MegaBots has raised more than $195,000; as of Tuesday morning, Warren added that the company was averaging a $12 donation per each Kickstarter video click; by now, it's surely more. There are 29 days to go. Primarily, the Kickstarter page is an attempt to raise money to fund planned power upgrades for Mk. II, including a modular "interchangeable weapons suite" and "balancing algorithm that keeps it balanced and steady while in melee combat" in preparation for the June 2016 bout. While its minimum goal is $500,000, Megabots hopes to raise as much as $1.5 million for Mk. II's makeover. The Kickstarter page also highlights its unveiled advising crew, which includes X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis as a state-of-the-art robotics expert; BattleBots founders Greg Munson and Terry Roski on weaponry, tactical measures, and strategizing; and former Mythbuster Grant Imahara on robot design. Other sponsors on the roster are engineers and scientists from NASA, Autodesk, and Team IHMC Robotics. But back to Colbertian comparisons: despite Warren's hope that MegaBots Inc. will forge "the world's first match in a brand new sport [much like] if you could go back and watch the very first boxing match in history," there's a stringent educational imperative to its mission. "Sports unite humanity behind the ideals of fun, sportsmanship, camaraderie, competition, excellence, grace, and glory," said Warren. "I hope MegaBots will add innovation and STEM education to these ideals ... [t]hey are perfect role-models that will help kids understand that being smart and learning how to make things is not only cool – it's a way to become a hero. MegaBots is like a gateway drug for the next generation of creative engineers." And like Colbert – and in true MegaBots style – Warren had some fighting words to relay to Suidobashi: You can visit the Kickstarter page here, and watch the Kickstarter video below.
News Article | June 11, 2015
DARPA, the agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of technologies that the military can use, sponsored the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), the Superbowl of robotics that aims to find a robot that can be used in emergency situations. The contest at the Fairplex in Pomona, California was joined by competitors from all over the world. The team from KAIST, formerly the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, in Daejeon, South Korea, which built and piloted the humanoid robot DRC-Hubo won the $2 million grand prize after outperforming 22 other participants. HUBO, which has been in development since 2002, has capabilities for bipedal walking, control algorithm and manipulation. The latest version now has more powerful joint motors and hands that can handle different tasks in disaster situations. The robot can also transform from standing position to a kneeling pose intended for fast and wheeled motion. Team IHMC Robotics, from Pensacola, Fla., which worked with Running Man, came in second and took home a $1 million check. Formerly called Atlas, Running Man has self-contained power, cooling, computing and is equipped for wireless communication. Team Tartan Rescue, from western Pennsylvania, took the third place and the $500,000 prize for its red robot CHIMP. The robot was designed to work in dangerous and degraded environments that were meant for people and not robots. With its near-human form factor, precision, strength and ability, the robot is able to perform complex and human-level tasks in these kinds of setting. The three winning teams were able to finish the eight-task challenge consist of the robots opening a door, clearing or navigating rubble, driving and getting out of a car, breaching a wall, climbing stairs, closing a valve and replugging a big black plug. The organizers congratulated the participants for taking part in the challenge, saying that DRC is only the beginning of a future where people and humans work together to reduce the toll of disasters. The competition's main objective of inspiring the development of robots for disaster relief operation was prompted by nuclear disaster that happened in Fukushima, Japan three years ago. After the earthquake and tsunami, employees at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant needed to open valves in order to release steam and prevent explosion. They were not fast enough and close enough though because of the amount of radiation. Had there been robots available at that time to perform these tasks, the disaster could have been mitigated. "This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters," said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar.
Johnson M.,IHMC Robotics |
Shrewsbury B.,IHMC Robotics |
Bertrand S.,IHMC Robotics |
Wu T.,IHMC Robotics |
And 17 more authors.
Journal of Field Robotics | Year: 2015
This article is a summary of the experiences of the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) team during the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. The primary goal of the DRC is to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and manmade disasters. The robots are expected to use standard tools and equipment to accomplish the mission. The DRC Trials consisted of eight different challenges that tested robot mobility, manipulation, and control under degraded communications and time constraints. Team IHMC competed using the Atlas humanoid robot made by Boston Dynamics. We competed against 16 international teams and placed second in the competition. This article discusses the challenges we faced in transitioning from simulation to hardware. It also discusses the lessons learned both during the competition and in the months of preparation leading up to it. The lessons address the value of reliable hardware and solid software practices. They also cover effective approaches to bipedal walking and designing for human-robot teamwork. Lastly, the lessons present a philosophical discussion about choices related to designing robotic systems. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Source