Tag Archive | DARPA

DARPA’s Pet-Proto robot climbs, balances, jumps, comes to get you

While Boston Dynamics‘ Cheetah has already premiered, speeding along on its robot-friendly treadmill, we’ve now got a better glimpse at how the similarly DARPA-funded human-hunting obstacle-scaling Atlas fares, courtesy of its ancestor. That’s the Pet-Proto you can see in the video below, balancing and leaping across narrow terrain, conducting its own “autonomous decision-making” and keeping upright — all very important points for DARPA’s own Robotics Challenge, a competition where winners will gain access to their very own modified version of the Atlas for future disaster response tests. Watch the Pet-Proto gradually advance towards camera right after the break. And we’ll sleep with one eye open.


DARPA’s low-cost silicone robot cloaks like a chameleon, treks like a snail

Remember those colorful sticky hands that you used to buy for a quarter from grocery store vending machines? Yeah, this is kind of like that — except that it’s a freaking robot. DARPA is currently working to develop low-cost silicone robots that use both air and fluid to control movement, color and temperature. In the following video, you can see one of these soft contraptions as it journeys onto a bed of rocks and then uses colored liquid to blend into its surroundings. Don’t expect this glorious sticky hand to break any land speed records, however; the silicone bot can travel approximately 40 meters per hour, or up to 67 meters per hour without the fluid. (Even the 30 second video, which goes at a snail’s pace, has been sped up five fold.)

The current demonstration implements a tethered solution as the robot’s source of power, pumps, gasses and liquids, but future developments may allow for a self-contained system. Further, rather than improving the robot’s speed, its developers will instead focus on its flexibility as a means for navigating within tight spaces. Be sure to peep the video below, and we think you’ll agree that DARPA’s creation easily puts those sticky hands to shame.

DARPA CAAT is Like a Tank that Floats on Water

Whether or not you support the investment in military technology, you have to admit that DARPA comes up with some amazing technologies. A recent DARPA project is the Captive Air Amphibious Transporter (CAAT), which works much like a tank, except it floats on water.


Using air-filled pontoons attached to tank-like treads, the CAAT can drive across the surface of water or swamps at a high rate of speed. When out of the water, the amphibious vehicle can drive directly onto shore – even onto uneven surfaces. The vehicle is designed as part of DARPA’s Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform, which is designed to help support disaster relief from offshore ships. So I imagine these would be brought in on larger boats, and then drive into shore. It’s an impressive sight when you see it in action:

At this point, what you’re looking at here is a 1/5th scale prototype of the CAAT, and it’s not clear if it will eventually make it into full-scale production.

DARPA Moving Ahead with Building Zombie Frankensatellites

It’s like Alien meets Bride of Frankenstein, mixed with Night of the Living Dead: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to harvest components from dead, non-working “zombie” satellites to build new ones in space, all done remotely via a grasping, mechanical arm.

The agency would like to have the first keystone mission of what is called the Phoenix Programup and running by 2015, and it recently announced that several companies and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab have won a share of a $36 million contract award to help develop the technology to assemble new satellites from old, dead ones.

This project would harvest larger working parts, such as antennas and solar arrays from satellites that have otherwise have failed and are still in geosynchronous orbit, 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above Earth. DARPA envisions robotically removing and re-using these parts from decommissioned satellites by developing a new class of very small ‘satlets,’ similar to nano satellites, which could “ride along” other commercial satellite launches, greatly reducing launch costs, DARPA says.

The satlets would attach themselves to the antenna or solar array of a non-functional satellite, remove the part and move it to a different orbit where a satellite servicing spacecraft is waiting to robotically operate on and build a new satellite while in orbit. The servicing satellite would be equipped with grasping mechanical arms for removing the satlets and components. These unique space tools are what needs to be developed for the program.

The robotic arms/grappling tools will be controlled remotely from Earth. The pieces will then be reconfigured into a new free-flying space system and operated independently to demonstrate the concept of space re-use.

DARPA is interested in building communication satellites to provide 24-hour communication capabilities for the military.

“Today, when a communication satellite fails, it usually means the expensive prospect of having to launch a brand new replacement communication satellite,” DARPA’s Phoenix Program webpage says. “The goal of the Phoenix program is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost.”

Among the companies that have a share in creating the components needed to make Phoenix a reality are Altius Space Machines, Space Systems/Loral; Intelsat; MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates; Honeybee Robotics; and JPL.

Some of the technology DARPA expects to be built for the Phoenix program include:

  • Radiation tolerant micro-electronics and memory storage
  • Industrial robotics end effectors and tool changeout mechanisms and techniques
  • Computer-assisted medical robotics micro-surgical tele-presence, tools and imaging
  • Remote imaging/vision technologies
  • For more information, see the DARPA Phoenix webpage.This post by Nancy Atkinson originally appeared on Universe Today. Image via DARPA.

DARPA Innovation House project wants teams to take imaging data, see the big picture

Where are the bad guys? The military has eyes and ears everywhere these days, including drones largeand tinysatellites, radar imaging, LIDAR, infrared, thermal and even the enemy’s own cellphones. The problem is how to take all that imaging and create a single picture of the environment. To that end, DARPA and George Mason University in Arlington have created the first Innovation House Project, which will put eight teams together for eight weeks in a “crucible-style” living environment to try to invent new ways of crunching the diverse sensor info. The military’s research arm wants those units to think way off-piste “without fear of failure” to dream up solutions, and will have access to specialists and mentors from the military and academia. Unlike DARPA’s usual challenges which have a grand prize, all teams accepted to the project will receive $30,000 in funding, but groups who go on to survive a four week cut will get an additional $20K. Proposals will be accepted up to July 31 (with no academic credentials needed), and the competition will begin in earnest on September 17. DARPA will get a license of any software created, allowing teams to hold the rights — and hopes to continue the concept down the road, with new themes for team-based research on a tight deadline. So, if you’re a data, imaging or “geospatial” whiz — and don’t mind being locked in a house and put under the brainstorming gun by DARPA — check the PR for all the details.

Pentagon starts Phoenix trial to harvest defunct satellites, MacGyver new ones from orbit

The Phoenix Frankenprogram to harvest the corpses of expired satellites and cobble together new ones seemed like one of DARPA’s more daft ideas, but this one has actually kicked off its first phase of development. The plan is to first launch a service craft — replete with robotic arms and enough processing horsepower to work independently if needed — followed by the tiny base-unit skeleton satlets. The service mothership would dip into an orbital area called the “graveyard”, grabbing pre-chosen cadavers and picking off usable parts, especially valuable antenna arrays, with its robo-limbs. Those parts would be jury-rigged to the bare-bones units, creating usable Pentagon satellites and saving the $10,000 per pound launch cost. So far, a $2.5 million contract to develop the needed technology has been put in place, and bids for the no-frills satlets went out last week. Plenty of dirty work is still needed, so check the video after the break to see if the overly-elaborate plan can un-moot $300 billion of orbiting cold metal.

The Air Force’s Secret Hypersonic Glider Flew So Fast Its Skin Fell Off [Airplanes]

Last summer, the Pentagon’s Falcon HTV-2 glider—which the Air Force says can fly from New York to LA in under 12 minutes,disappeared. Nobody knew why! Now we know why: it went so fast it ripped itself apart.

DARPA has a clean little mea culpa on what was certainly a very expensive accident:

Larger than anticipated portions of the vehicle’s skin peeled from the aerostructure. The resulting gaps created strong, impulsive shock waves around the vehicle as it travelled nearly 13,000 miles per hour, causing the vehicle to roll abruptly. Based on knowledge gained from the first flight in 2010 and incorporated into the second flight, the vehicle’s aerodynamic stability allowed it to right itself successfully after several shockwave-induced rolls. Eventually, however, the severity of the continued disturbances finally exceeded the vehicle’s ability to recover.

In other words, it crumbled and crashed. But holy hell: at 13,000 miles per hour, is this really surprising? The unmanned arrowhead was barreling through the air at Mach 20 (20 times the speed of sound). By humble comparison, the Air Force’s state of the art manned fighter can barely top Mach 2. Which is still very fast! DARPA expects part of the thing to burn off mid-flight—but not quite this much. The whole vehicle itself is essentially disposable, intended to “have the capability to reach anywhere in the world in less than one hour” (and drop a nuke on that part of the world). In other words, let it burn. [DARPA via CNN]


DARPA realizes it needs contact lenses, opts for those nice AR tinted ones (video)

DARPA saw the battlefield potential in AR glasses ages ago, when even Sergey Brin was happy to wear regular Ray-Bans. It’s now stepped up its investment, giving more cash to one of its research contractors — a company called Innovega — to produce prototype contact lenses that could make militarywearable HUDs smaller and less conspicuous. Innovega’s iOptik lenses don’t actually include a display, but rather allow the human eye to focus on an image from a separate accessory that sits right up close to the eyeball. The lenses have different zones that give the wearer multiple areas of focus, so they can see the overlaid augmented reality HUD — such as a feed from anoverhead drone — but also warlike events going on in the immediate environment. Judging from the video after the break, however, calling them plain ‘bifocals’ might be taboo.

DARPA’s next Grand Challenge to focus on humanoid robots

DARPA’s Grand Challenges have already helped put plenty of self-driving cars on (closed) roads, but it looks like the agency has something a bit different in mind for its next one. As first reported by Hizook, DARPA has apparently set its sights on humanoid robots as its next target — specifically, robots that are human-like enough to navigate rough terrain, drive a vehicle and manipulate regular tools (the idea being to simulate assisting in an industrial disaster zone). What’s more, participants will have to develop robots that can do all of that “semi-autonomously,” with only “supervisory teleoperation” permitted. No word on a timeline for the challenge just yet, but DARPA will apparently have more to say when it makes things completely official within the next few weeks.

[Thanks, Travis]

DARPA’s Crusher Drives Itself, Laughs at Your Puny “Traffic”

Picture, if you will, the self-driving Prius that Google invented—quiet, safe, sedate, room for five. Now imagine the exact, polar opposite—a six-wheeled, self-navigating robo-truck built for off-roading and ramming, a .50-cal machine gun on its roof, and room for zero. That’s the Crusher.

DARPA began development on the Crusher—technically, the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle and Perceptor Integration System—in 2006. The $30 million, nine-foot-wide machine is constructed from aluminum and titanium, and powered by a hybrid, Li Ion-Jetta engine. Each of its six wheels if fitted with a 49-inch tire and a suspension capable of raising and lower each wheel individually by as much as 30 inches. This allows the Crusher to climb vertical walls over four feet tall, traverse slopes of more than 40 degrees, and travel along 30 degree embankments. A shock-mounted steel skid plate protects the Crusher’s internal workings in case the truck happens to land on a boulder or tree stump. Its nose is also reinforced for ramming through heavy brush and blockades alike.

All this protection is necessary because the Crusher’s navigation software is designed to get the truck, and its 8000 pounds of cargo and armor, from point A to point B in the fastest way possible—a straight line. “This vehicle can go into places where, if you were following in a Humvee, you’d come out with spinal injuries,” said Stephen Welby, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told Stars and Stripes. “Usually vehicles are set up to protect humans. Here, we didn’t have to worry about that.” The Crusher has a top speed of 25 MPH.

The Crusher doesn’t just Hulk Smash its way through the terrain, mind you, it learns from what it drives over. “It can read the terrain” and define flat ground, vegetation, and obstacles, said Tony Stentz a Carnegie Mellon robotics engineer working on Crusher’s autonomy. During one demonstration, the Crusher didn’t Hulk Smash at all. When it came upon a steep berm at the edge of a tank track, the machine recognized the difficulty in forcing its way up and instead, turned around and scanned for an easier spot to cross.

In addition, the Crusher is outfitted with an advanced sensory suite that is capable of spotting enemy troops at a distance of over two miles. It transmits data from its laser sensors, mapping cameras, infrared cameras and various other video feeds to a remote command post. Thankfully, the command post also controls the .50 cal SAW mounted to the Crusher’s roof as well. According to the Army Times, “a researcher studying the vehicle controlled its cameras and machine gun using an iPod Touch music player.”

The Department of Defense has no plans to put the Crusher on the front lines in its current form. Instead, it will constitute the base of future designs as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems initiative. “This could be used as a scout, or a quick-response support vehicle,” Welby said. “With existing cameras we’ve put on there this vehicle is able to see rabbits at long-range, and enemy troops from 4 kilometers away. Imagine sending this to an intersection and letting it sit there to monitor what’s going on for days or weeks.” There’s no word if it will retain the iPod SAW-control. [Crusher Wiki – Stars and Stripes – NREC – Army Times]