Here's a scenario: you're trapped under rubble in the middle of a storm, and a large Transformer-esque robot comes shakily charging toward you to help, climbing and leaping over obstacles in the way.
Yes, it's a feat that must be seen to be believed--but in the video above, Pet-Proto was able to successfully maneuver through an obstacle course similar to what other robots may face in the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)'s Robotics Challenge.
In a description accompanying the video, officials noted:
To maneuver over and around the obstacles, the robot exercises capabilities including autonomous decision-making, dismounted mobility and dexterity. The DARPA Robotics Challenge will test these and other capabilities in a series of tasks that will simulate conditions in a dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environment.
DARPA has a history of sponsoring agile robots. The PETMAN robot, built last year for DARPA, was able to climb a flight of stairs. The Cheetah robot, developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from DARPA, broke the land speed record while running on a lab treadmill this year. There's also the Boston Dynamics-built AlphaDog robot, developed to carry heavy loads.
DARPA's Robotics Challenge (DRC) aims to seek out and develop such robots that are capable of completing complex tasks in dangerous situations--so that raises the question, will the robots be able to step in for us humans in an emergency situation?
“Just as natural and man-made disasters are common worldwide challenges," Gill Pratt, DARPA's program manager for the Robotics Challenge, said in a written statement, "what the response to the DRC has shown is that the international robotics community shares a common goal of advancing robotic technology to the point where it can have a tangible and positive impact on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Through the DRC, DARPA is providing the forum, tools and incentives to come together and take steps toward that goal.”