DARPA Plans 'Olympic-Style' Competition for Tiny Search and Rescue Robots

DARPA wants to test tiny robots using “Olympic-style” trials to help develop the next generation of search and rescue robots.
Jessica Miley

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to find the latest in tiny search and rescue robots by putting them through a training program similar to what human athletes training for the Olympics do.

Robots will enter the program called Short-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms (SHRIMP) which will develop small robotics technology that can navigate rubble and unstable areas in post-disaster areas.

Partnering high-tech robots with human search and rescue experts increases the likelihood of finding survivors and other tasks while keeping people safe.

"The DoD (Department of Defense) has interests in robotics of all scales," Ronald Polcawich, a DARPA program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office, told Digital Trends. “The development of small-scale robots requires addressing several unique challenges, especially in the area of extreme size and weight constraints that can be less of a priority for robots of other scales.”

Scientists will test new materials to produce lightweight robots

Micro and milli robot technology has exploded recently thanks to huge advancements in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), additive manufacturing, piezoelectric actuators, and low-power sensors. However, these small robots are often lacking the power, navigation, and control to accomplish complex tasks as well as their larger iterations.

The SHRIMP program will explore new ways to power these small robots as well as experiment with new materials that could improve the performance of the robots without losing any of their size or weight. The robots will then go through a series of competitions to measure how high they can jump, how much weight they can lift and how far they can throw objects.

Robots set to go head to head in a series of competitions

The tiny robot athletes will even compete in a type of tug-of-war. Other competition will test the robots' navigation ability and a combination of these skills will be tested in a biathlon type event.

“The strength-to-weight ratio of an actuator influences both the load-bearing capability and endurance of a micro-robotic platform, while the maximum work density characterizes the capability of an actuator mechanism to perform high intensity tasks or operate over a desired duration,” said Polcawich. “Making significant advances to actuator mechanisms and materials will greatly impact our ability to develop micro-to-milli robotic platforms capable of performing complex tasks in the field.”

One of the main goals of the program is to develop robots that have independent power sources. Most current search and rescue robots rely on a tether for power, processing or control. These robots are constrained by how far they can move and any other limitations on their power storage device.

Compact power source a priority for SHRIMP program

SHRIMP hopes to be able to produce complex micro and milli robots that use compact power sources.


“Micro-to-mm sized platforms provide a unique opportunity to push the development of highly efficient, versatile microelectronics,” said Polcawich. “While the goal of SHRIMP is to develop small-scale, independent robotics platforms, we anticipate that discoveries made through our actuator and power storage research could prove beneficial to a number of fields currently constrained by these technical challenges–from prosthetics to optical steering.”

The results of this intense training and development and competition program could mean the many more lives are able to be saved at disaster sites.


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