The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge was a gathering of some of the best minds in the robotics field. But, the actual challenge between 24 teams was only one part of the event. At the expo, companies and other organizations debuted their robot technologies, which are pushing the boundaries of the field.
From mini robots that dance to bomb-defusing robotic claws, here are seven examples of the technology that was shown off.
1. SRI International Taurus Dextrous Robot
This robot was made for bomb disposal — it can defuse IEDs and ground explosive ordnance (EOD), as well as remove hazardous materials. A human manipulates the robot from a safe distance away using joysticks and tiny 3D cameras.
2. Carnegie Mellon's Snake Monster
Carnegie Mellon, which won third place for its CHIMP robot in the competition, also showed off this "Snake Monster" robot at the expo. It has six legs, with a reach of 12 inches per leg, and weighs about 18 pounds. When it walks, three legs are in the air at a time. It was developed in about six months.
3. SRI International PROXI
PROXI is a humanoid robot that doesn't have a head yet. Though it didn't compete in the DRC, PROXI was demoed all weekend at the expo. This robot can operate up to 20 times more efficiently than other current humanoid robots, and its battery lasts eight hours compared to Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot, which lasts one hour. It's all electric, from the batteries to the motors, allowing it to run on less energy. It walks much more like a human, and is much lower in cost than other humanoid bots out there.
4. ROBOTIS Darwin Mini Humanoid Robot
We have to talk about these, because not only are they adorable, but they're a great introduction to humanoid robots. They come as a DIY robot kit with an open source board, and are compatible with a smartphone app. These little mini bots dance to Bruno Mars and other top 40 hits, and can be programmed by people of all ages. One runs about $500.
5. SRI International's robotic suits
This suit allows soldiers to carry heavier loads — up to 150 pounds — by giving them extra support on the back of their calves. The sensors can tell when the soldier is running, walking, or trotting, and adjusts the weight based on that data. The entire suit is lightweight, and SRI is developing more technology for the rest of the body.
6. NASA's Valkyrie Robot
NASA Jet Propulsion Lab's RoboSimian robot took fifth place at the DRC. But at NASA's other booth, its Valkyrie robot was on display. This six-foot-two-inch tall robot looks like a combination of an astronaut and superhero, and was completed in 2013. It danced a lot while it was in California.
7. Robot Cheetah
Honestly, we're mildly obsessed with the robot cheetah. In person, it acted more like a puppy than a cheetah, by jumping, falling, and trotting rather slowly between team members. It can apparently run and jump over hurdles about 18 inches tall while running at five miles an hour, and it does it untethered and autonomously. Check it out here.
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Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.