Surge the rescue robot is RoboSimian's more evolved sibling

It looks like the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory team responsible for RoboSimian's existence has been busy this year, creating its possible substitute for the DARPA Robotics Challenge finale. The result? A robot that stands upright at 4.5 feet and weighs in at 200 pounds called Surrogate, or Surge for short. It's more human-like than its predecessor, with its two arms, a head and a spine, which allows it to manipulate objects better. It also has Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) equipment on its head, which gives it the capability to create 3D maps of various locations using laser beams. Problem is, it can't climb rough or tall terrain, because it uses caterpillar tracks. Plus, its body only has room for one set of cameras.

On the other hand, the older robot can climb uneven surfaces, such as stairs or mountains, thanks to its four legs, and it also has seven sets of cameras -- features that make it a better all-around search-and-rescue robot, which is what DARPA's looking for. Thus, after six months of testing both, JPL has decided to send RoboSimian to the Robotics Challenge finals in June 2015. Surge's LiDAR is a mighty useful tool, though, so the researchers plan to add the feature to RoboSimian before the event. They're also working with several partners in an effort to make the robot walk faster than it does.

During the finals, we'll see the ape-like robot attempt a variety of tasks useful for rescue missions, like driving a car, turning valves and moving debris out of doorways. As for Surrogate, well, the researchers promise it will not be forgotten. "We'll continue to use it as an example of how we can take RoboSimian limbs and reconfigure them into other platforms," said Brett Kennedy, the project's lead researcher.

You can see all of RoboSimian's rivals for the $2 million grand prize on the contest's official website. Notably absent, though, is Japan's Team SCHAFT, which created S-one, the former leading contender. Google snapped up the startup in 2013 and ultimately decided to pull S-one from the competition, as it plans to make commercial robots based on the technology that (wealthy) people can buy.