No Robot Army Here: Google Pulls The HRP-2 Robot From The DARPA Robotics Challenge To Focus On Consumer Tech
Good news, folks! You can remove your tinfoil hats. Google currently has no plans to develop robots for the military - either now, or in the near future. The search giant announced today that it will be withdrawing Team Schaft from the $2 million DARPA Robotics Challenge, and turning down further funding from the defense agency.
Okay, maybe that's not good news. After all, the DRC was designed for disaster relief, right? It's not like the robots were going to be used in combat or anything.
On the surface, that means this is fairly disappointing news for robotics fans - after all, Team Schaft was a clear frontrunner, and likely would've taken home the prize if only it had kept competing. That disappointment is only compounded by some of the promotional content Team Schaft has posted on YouTube, which shows the robot completely blowing through the qualifying round weeks before the deadline. The other competitors barely even came close. So why'd Google decide to pull out and abandon such a lead?
According to DARPA program manager Gill Pratt, it's because Google's interests are commercial rather than military.
"Team Schaft has elected to withdraw from the finals," announced Pratt in a press call earlier today. "They are going to be focusing on the development of their first commercial product. It was a very difficult decision for them, but they've done extremely well, and we're really glad to see them being successful now in the commercial world."
Google will still be tangentially supporting the competition for now through Boston Dynamics - another robotics company they acquired late last year. Although it's not competing, Boston Dynamics is participating in the DRC in a "supporting role," according to The Verge. I'd imagine the fact that Google came to own both companies contributed at least a little to its decision to withdraw Team Schaft - there seems to be at least a minor conflict of interest there.
Although it might be a bit of a disappointment to see Google drop the DRC, considering what it could mean for consumer robotics...I honestly feel completely okay with it. Technologically, one thing Google's always done is push the ball forward; I'm guessing they're going to do basically the same thing with Schaft (and the other companies they've acquired). I can't wait to see what they come up with.
Based out of Japan, Team Schaft was founded at Tokyo University and existed exclusively to participate in the DARPA Robotics Competition. The group used hardware and software designed for its already-existing HRP-2 bipedal robot,with the aim of creating a robot equipped with superior planning, recognition, motion generation, and motion control. They were acquired by Google in November, along with seven other robotics organizations.
The Darpa Robotics Challenge is a competition which pits teams comprised of some of the world's top roboticists against one another. These teams are tasked with constructing robots capable of assisting humans during both natural and man-made disasters. Designed to be extremely difficult, the contests in the challenge can only be overcome by the best of the best. The finals will take place from June 5-6, 2015 at Fairplex in Pomona, California, where the winning team will receive a $2 million price.