Headline, December 11 2023/ HISTORY : ''' IRON MAN IRIS '''



! IRON FOUNDERS TECHNOLOGY ! AN INSIDE HISTORIC LOOK at the epic struggle to build a robot that looks like us.

LET ME CORRECT AN IMPRESSION YOU MAY HAVE : ROBOTS are very much - or pretty much idiots. They can't do very much - and they do it with a slowness that would try the patience of a saint who was also an elephant.

Samuel Beckett would have made a good roboticist. It is a science of boredom, disappointment and despair.

I am observing all this at close in a windowless warehouse in Pensacola, Fla., belonging to the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition [IHMC for short ], a pleasantly interdisciplinary nonprofit research institute that is affiliated with several universities but beholden to none.

Its focus is on developing machines that extend and enhance human physical and mental abilities - exoskeletons for the paralyzed would be one example. 

Much of the warehouse is taken up with the kind of crude open plan office you might expect at a struggling Internet startup : wooden trestle tables crowded with computers and monitors and other techno-detritus.

Lots of whiteboards, lots of beards, not a lot of women. But one side of the warehouse has been cordoned off and cleared of furniture.

It contains among other things a car, a freestanding plywood wall with a circular valve handle set in it, some simulated rubble and debris, a door that goes nowhere and a robot.

The robot has no name. It has two skeletal arms and two skinny, skeletal legs. It's roughly the size and shape of a human being, or if you like a defleshed Terminator -but only roughly. It's top heavy : it has an absurdly dainty waist, but it's chesty and wears a massive backpack containing a huge battery.

It has long gorilla-like arms that end in three fingered clamps, Tubes snake in and out and through its body - hydraulics, electric cables, cooling fluid. Blue lights wink in its innards. Its head is the weirdest part : it has no face, just a sensor pod with two lenses for binocular vision and an eternally spinning laser range finder called lidar.

When it's not powered on, the robot can't stand up by itself, so it spends most of its time dangling from a harness about a foot off the floor, with the sheepish air of a skydiver whose parachute has gotten caught in a tree.

The robot was designed with a specific purpose in mind. On April 10,2012, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which runs the Department of Defense's high-tech moon shots, launched a robot-building competition.

The robots were to be humanoid and designed for rescue operations in disaster areas that might be hazardous to humans, like the ruined Fukushima nuclear reactors. They would be optimized for mobility, dexterity, strength, endurance and something called ''supervised autonomy.'' The prize : millions of dollars of development money.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge held its semifinals some years ago at NASCAR speedway near Miami. Sixteen teams entered, representing a who's who of technological powerhouse from the public and private sectors including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin.

The robots were judged on their ability to perform eight tasks, including driving a vehicle, climbing a ladder, crossing a debris field and using a drill to make a hole in a wall. For each task, the robots were allotted 30 minutes.

The winner, with a score of 27 out of a possible 32, was a boxy, long-limbed android made by a startup called Schaft, which came out of the robotics lab at the University of Tokyo. It had recently been acquired by Google.

Following the semis, Schaft withdrew from the rest of the competition to focus on developing a commercial product; also, presumably, it no longer needed money from DARPA.

The second-place finisher, with 20 points -and special recommendations for opening doors and drilling through walls - was the robot from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Later that year,on June 5, it went on to compete in the finals at a fairground outside Los Angeles for $3.5 million in prize money.

DARPA has held contests like this before, with excellent and arguably world challenging results. The precursor for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, constantly invoked on all sides, is the DARPA Grand Challenge of 2004, which was intended to encourage innovation in self-driving cars.

The Grand Challenge was a triumph in the long term and a disaster in the short term.  Fifteen driverless cars lined up to navigate a 142-mile [ 229 km] course in the Mojave Desert, with the winner $1 million.

Two teams quit before the race even started. One car flipped over at the starting line. The most successful vehicle fielded by Carnegie Mellon, made it 7 miles [11 km] before it got hopelessly stuck on a rock. There were no winners.

The Honour and Serving of the ''History of Technology and Robotics'', so continues. The World Students Society thanks author Lev Grossman.

With respectful dedication to the Global Founder Framers of !WOW! - and then Mankind, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See You all prepare for Great Global Elections on : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter X !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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