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DARPA gives its Atlas robot a makeover, cuts the wires

Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
January 21, 2015
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The Atlas robot is shedding its safety cables to be able to adhere to the more stringent rules of the DARPA Robotics Challenge finale scheduled for June this year. DARPA almost completely redesigned its humanoid machine, bringing over only the lower legs and feet of the old robot to the new version called Atlas Unplugged. By using lighter materials for its body, the team was able to add a 3.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack that has the potential to power the new Atlas for an hour of walking and other activities. Its designers also added a wireless router for communication, tweaked its wrists to be able to rotate further and gave it three perception computers for task planning, among other improvements.

Pentagon's high-tech weapons- and robotic-development division will send out an Atlas Unplugged to each of the seven teams using it for the drawn-out robotics challenge. The teams will then have to think of ways to differentiate themselves from each other yet be able to fulfill the new requirements. The robotic contenders will now have to be able to 1.) operate completely without wires, 2.) get up and recover without intervention if they fall or get stuck, and 3.) operate on their own for brief periods in case of communication blackouts. DARPA's current Robotics Challenge, by the way, is all about search-and-rescue robots. The strongest contender used to be a Japanese-made humanoid machine called S-One, but it was eventually purchased by Google and was pulled out from the competition.

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