DARPA’s Robot Olympics

This competition has been described as essentially being the Olympic games but instead of human competitors, the contestants are tiny insect-sized robots.

If the Defence Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) get their way, the Robot Olympics will soon become a reality. The problem faced is that for the proposed event new and improved innovative robots would need to be either found or invented,  and apparently, the robots would need to measure at just a fraction of an inch. These incredible robots would then be set to compete in tests of speed, agility, and strength, no different to the attributes put to the test in human Olympics.

These bots will somewhat obviously not only be used for entertainment purposes, they are also said to be under development as part of a new DARPA program known as Short-Range Independent Micro-robotic Platforms (SHRIMP). According to DARPA representatives, the bots involved in SHRIMP will be tested for deployment into situations and terrains that are too difficult for humans to reach. This would have clear benefits to police forces, fire forces, and other rescue services. SHRIMP as an actual investigation is technically looking to develop novel solutions for powering small robots along with investigating new materials that may improve the ability and durability of the robots. All of this would have to come without sacrificing the minuscule size and weight, which poses a big challenge. SHRIMP is actually looking to put them through almost Olympic games type obstacles in order to test their maneuverability, mobility, and dexterity.

Obstacles at The Robot Olympics

One of the more interesting obstacles the bots will face is one in which the robot will test untethered actuator power systems. This is to see how high and how far the robots are able to jump, along with how much weight they can lift, how far they can throw objects and how they do in a tug of war. The throwing stands out as particularly intriguing, as this implies that they may have some sort of arms. Another category is designed for complete robot designs, in which the tiny bots will be evaluated on navigating an obstacle course, rock piling, climbing a vertical surface and performing in a biathlon. It is hoped the bots will be tested in March 2019.

Although the very small nature of these robots will limit them from doing many tasks that larger robots could perform, it will allow them to go places and perform specific tasks that larger robots are incapable of. It is safe to say that these robots will not be used solely for these Olympic games. “From prosthetics to optical steering,” says Ronald Polcawich, DARPA program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office. This is obviously just a tiny fraction of the possibilities but it should be noted that he chose these in particular, it may indicate future plans for DARPA if the Olympic games are successful for the robots. It in fact, would definitely not be very surprising if the bots were put to use in a military way.

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