A video from DARPA shows six of the robots that will be competing this weekend
This should be a staggering display of robotic skill—robots will need to drive vehicles, climb ladders, navigate difficult terrain, bust through walls, and manipulate objects like hoses and switches, among others. The ultimate goal of the DARPA challenge is to have the robots doing all of these things, largely autonomously—relying on only their programing and their digital wits to overcome these obstacles. That the project is funded by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense is not surprising—but it also doesn't make us feel any easier about the whole thing.
But the goal of the program isn't to take over the planet. “The DARPA Robotics Challenge,” says Space.com, “was created largely in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown, in which a crippled Japanese nuclear plant leaked 300 tons of radioactive water into the ground following a devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the region.”
"During the first 24 hours there, if [robots] had been able to go into the reactor buildings and vent the built-up gas that was accumulating inside the reactors, those explosions might have been prevented, and the disaster might not have been as severe," Pratt said. "The tech we're trying to develop is to allow human beings and robots to work together, in environments that are too dangerous for human beings to go into themselves."
This weekend's events are just the trials for the ultimate DARPA Robotics Challenge, which takes place next year. The winner of the finals will take home $2 million.
More from Smithsonian.com: