Team DRC-Hubo: The Road to Miami…

It’s been a crazy-busy summer for Team DRC-Hubo and hence my blogging lapse (sorry!) so first let me explain the title. On July 11, 2013 DARPA gave their “green light” to 13 teams (6 from Track A and 7 Atlas-based ones) for competing in Miami this December – I’m pleased to say our Track A team is one of the six.  So, describing how our team got to this points might be a good way to kick-start this blog again.

Top 5 (oops, I mean 6) Track A teams Announced: On June 25, 2013 DARPA emailed our team saying that we passed our Critical Design Review (CDR).  However, DARPA had a press embargo in effect; the Track A teams that would go to Miami (called a down-select) would be announced July 11.  Towards this, DARPA requested Track A teams to create a 2-min video which they’d play at the news release.

Before going further, let me share what went on with CDR.  In early June 2013, DARPA visited the 7 original Track A teams to access their progress and to eliminate 2 teams.  This is called down-selection – forcing teams into a competitive Darwinian “survival-of-the-fittest” mode.   

The review was intense where we accelerated schedules and intensified efforts in preparation.  On June 12, 2013, we thus hosted DARPA’s “review” of our team at Drexel (see figure below).

June 12, 2013 CDR.  Paul Oh (lead, Team DRC-Hubo) kicking off CDR for DARPA (center front row) at Drexel

June 12, 2013: Dr. Paul Oh (team DRC-Hubo Lead) kicking off CDR for DARPA (center front and seconds rows) with 20+ team mates (left and right sides of room) at Drexel.  Side note: Unbeknownst to DARPA we had Beta DRC-Hubo behind a black curtain (upper part of photo) to unveil at the right time

We described our engineering process involving testing-and-evaluation of Hubo and defining technical design requirements for the DRC.  We then:

  • Unveiled our beta DRC-Hubo, nicknamed “DiRC” and pronounced “Dirk” (see below)
  • Showed our full-scale mock-up test site, fabricated by a professional stage set designer featuring all the 8 events
  • Our customized 24-foot Command-and-Control (C2) trailer which serves as our mobile “pit station” and will be driven to Miami from Philadelphia
DARPA Smiling: Beta DRC-Hubo unveiled showing range of motion (left) and steering (right)

DARPA Smiling: Beta DRC-Hubo unveiled showing range of motion (left) and steering (right)

A full-sized mock-up test site was fabricated and shown leading to smiles from DARPA folks (left).  DRC-Hubo doing the valve-turning event (right)

A full-sized mock-up test site was fabricated and shown leading to smiles from DARPA folks (left). DRC-Hubo doing the valve-turning event (right)

24-foot trailer that team will drive to Miami (left), with interior customized into a command-and-control center (middle) and shown to DARPA at CDR (right)

24-foot trailer that team will drive to Miami (left), with interior customized into a command-and-control center (middle) and shown to DARPA at CDR (right)

Perhaps old news now, but we passed (see group photo below,  smiling but tired) – Go Team DRC-Hubo!

End of CDR day: Group photo with Team's event leads and DARPA reviewers

End of CDR day: Group photo with Team’s event leads and DARPA reviewers

Atlas Unveiling: So July 11 comes and the DARPA world-wide announcement is released.  Again, perhaps old news by now, but the announcement centered on Atlas, the Boston Dynamics humanoid that will compete in Miami.  Seven of these robots were to be given to the top 9 Track B and C teams.  Almost as a footnote, the press release mentioned the 6 (not 5) Track A teams also going forward to Miami and DARPA provided a short video of these Track A teams. 

A word about DARPA’s short video – it showed parts of our (old) notional concepts video that we created back in October 2012.  We provided DARPA with this clip showing some parts of DiRC but it wasn’t shown.  So here’s some unseen footage:

To be frank, I was a bit disappointed that the press announcement did not talk much about the Track A teams.  After all, we put so much effort into CDR.  More news about our (and other Track A teams) efforts would have been edifying.  But I understand – DARPA invested a lot of dollars into Atlas and hence their focus made sense.

Miami Semi-Final?  13+ teams (7 using Atlas, 6 Track A teams and an undisclosed number of unfunded teams) will meet in the Homestead Speedway in Miami December 20-21, 2013, to compete.  I call this a “semi-final” because DARPA said they’ll select the Top 8 performing teams.  These 8 teams will then have 1-year to prepare further and in December 2014 will compete to be the top team (and awarded the $2M prize).

I believe our chances of making the Final 8 are strong.  Team DRC-Hubo just concluded its 10-week “summer boot camp”.  Our 8 partners all gathered at Drexel, sleeping and dining together in dorms, coding together in our “base camp”, and verifying their approaches in the mock-up.  It was intense but it built up both “DiRC” and team morale into a long-lasting memory.  It’s not just about building robots, but about building friendships and building the knowledge base – and most importantly, building for tomorrow’s disaster-response.

God speed!

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Paul Oh

About Paul Oh

I'm Paul Oh, a robotics professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and lead for team DRC-Hubo. I founded the Drexel Autonomous Systems Lab (DASL) in 2000 and serve as its director: http://dasl.mem.drexel.edu. DASL has participated in disaster response and worked with first responders to develop technologies since 2001.
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