Robot Battle For The Big Leagues: Valkyrie And The DARPA Challenge


Even though NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s impressive build for the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge is one of many entries, it has to be one of the coolest. The gang at IEEE Spectrum got a sneak peak of the robot dubbed “Valkyrie”, which at 1.9m and 125kg boasts 44 degrees of freedom while managing to look like a finished product ready to roll off the shelf. We can expect to see other custom robots at the challenge, but a number of teams will compete with a Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot, which we’ve covered a couple times this year.

A few readers are probably polishing their pitchforks in anticipation of shouting “Not a hack!” but before you do, take a look at the tasks for the robots in this challenge and consider how new this territory is. To that end, the NASA JSC crew seem to have prepared for resolving catastrophes, even if it means throwing together a solution. They’ve designed the limbs for quick removal and even reversibility: the arms are identical and only slight adjustments are required to turn a left arm into a right. Unlike the Atlas, which requires a tether, Valkyrie is battery-operated, and it can run for around an hour before someone needs to crack open the torso and swap in a new one, Iron Man filmstyle.

The team was also determined to make Valkyrie seem more human, so they added a soft fabric layer to serve as a kind of clothing. According to IEEE Spectrum, it’s even getting custom made footwear from DC Shoes.There are some utilitarian compromises, though: Valkyrie has adopted a shortcut taken by time-constrained animators in many a cartoon, choosing three fingers per hand instead of four. Make sure you watch the video after the break for a closer look.

30 thoughts on “Robot Battle For The Big Leagues: Valkyrie And The DARPA Challenge

  1. I gotta say, I was expecting to see more shots of the robot, I dunno… doing stuff? Yay for cool robot clothes and all, but seeing it take half a step and grab a steering wheel just didn’t meet my expectations somehow.

  2. The NASA JPL team did well in the simulation precursor to the full challenge, the VRC (Virtual Robotics Challenge). They posted an overview video of their demo, which is a hilarious collection of dumb but simple workarounds they figured out to accomplish the tasks (crab-walking, deliberate collisions with terrain, etc). The message of the video is that most of the work they did was brute force trial and error specific to the simulation, but useless in the challenge and indeed in the real world – in fact, they say the only “clever” algorithm they developed scored the worst out of all the tasks.

    They seem to be saying that the DARPA robotics challenge is a series of artificially difficult tasks, and the solutions to which won’t really benefit robotics as a whole (as a robotics researcher, I agree). Also watch to the end to see a nod to the BigDog Beta parody video…

    1. You’re assuming that that’s how it stands; it could be braking them, it could have ratchet-like mechanisms though that’s less likely from what I could see. Braking is most probable, since it leaves the smallest chance of just falling over and breaking if it runs out of power, takes the least power to accomplish, and can be a default no-power state.

  3. What we need is a requirement that anyone building a robot, capable of overthrowing mankind in it’s current configuration or not, publish specs that clearly show where to shoot it to make it stop overthrowing mankind. And why does it have boobs?

    1. Because Valkyries are female. Where did you think the name came from? :V

      I think it was an attempt to make it a bit more endearing, maybe soften that muscular storm trooper thing it has going on.

      Can we please stop with the “SKYNET LOL” every time a post has a robot? Setting aside the plausibility of robots up and gaining sentience, the whole point of Terminator was that the super computer that controlled nuclear missiles and so forth turned on mankind after people responded to it gaining self awareness by trying to pull the plug. Those movies had a lot to say for action flicks, and it’s kind of depressing that what a lot of people took away seems to be just “robots can’t be trusted.”

      It’s like how people call Frankenstein a story of science run amok when the whole point is that the creature *wasn’t evil before his creator fucking abandoned him.*

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