DARPA's Disaster Robot Design Contest

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April 11 2012 2:09 PM

DARPA’s Disaster Robot Design Contest: Seeking Rubble-Runners and Valve Closers

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(DARPA's new robot competition is looking for designs for disaster relief. A picture taken on April 4, 2011 on the industrial site of the French energy giant EDF Chinon nuclear power plant in Avoine, near Chinon, center France, shows indoor robotised vehicles, manufactured by the French INTRA group.)

Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

Many humans don’t enjoy cleaning up disastrous messes—which is why DARPA wants robots designed to clean up for us.

The Defense Advanced Research and Planning Agency, or DARPA, has announced a robotics challenge with $2 million in prizes in the hopes that corporations and universities might produce the ultimate mechanized maid—one that can go where humans can’t to help clean up after a large-scale disaster.  

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Inspired by difficulties with man-made cleanup efforts in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year, the competition wants robot designs capable of specific tasks, including driving a vehicle to a simulated disaster site, moving across rubble, and finding and closing a valve on a leaking pipe.

The competitions for cash prizes are expected to be held in 2013 and 2015, and DARPA officials are encouraging international participation.

Video produced by Jim Festante.

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.