European robots to compete in outdoor challenges

Issue date: 06 February 2013

A new EU initiative will create an exciting new Grand Challenge for intelligent search and rescue robots.

euRathlon, is a three year project, funded by the European Commission, led by Professor Alan Winfield of UWE Bristol, with seven European partners.

Three competitions will see teams of robots and their designers go head to head in a series of demanding outdoor scenarios that mimic the real challenges of a disaster situation.

euRathlon begins in 2013 with a demanding land-based competition, followed in 2014 by an underwater competition. In 2015 the Grand Challenge will feature all three elements: land, sea and air, in which robots will need to work together to respond to a mock disaster scenario inspired by the Fukushima accident.

The robots will be designed by teams of roboticists from universities, research groups and industry across Europe, who will work to a set of rules and strict technical criteria.

It is hoped the competition will help to accelerate progress in European cognitive robotics to meet the challenge of developing smart robots which can operate safely and effectively in unpredictable and hazardous physical environments.

Professor Alan Winfield says, “This competition is a fantastic way of focusing researchers on the challenges of creating cognitive robots which work in an outdoor environment. Many smart robots function well in the safety of a lab or a factory, but in order for robots to be really useful to society, they need to be able to respond to unpredictable and difficult physical challenges. For example a robot may move efficiently on the smooth floor of a lab, but we need robots which can cope with uneven terrain, day or night; handle mud, rain or snow and still be useful.

“Each competition will have several scenarios - for example a smoke-filled building with several survivors needing rescue, chemical hazards and other obstacles. The task for the robots will be to locate and identify the hazards, and map the building whilst carrying out the task of rescuing survivors. Emergency services and industrial partners will help to design scenarios that are relevant and realistic for the teams.

“Each team will design their own robots, and there will be rules governing the technical limits of the robots, how the team is allowed to operate, and what they need to do to win! Ideally the robots will operate autonomously - but with manual override for safety and in case things go wrong.

“Through competing with each other, we hope teams will be stimulated to find new ways of addressing the technical and environmental challenges and come up with innovative solutions to the challenge of creating smart robots that work outdoors.

“For the teams taking part this will be an inspiring experience that demands both innovation and down to earth engineering. There will be ample technical and safety support and we want to encourage teams to enter and take up the challenge.

“By targeting a specific and urgent need - intelligent robots for disaster-response - euRathlon will provide European robotics with a platform for challenging, extending and showcasing European cognitive robotics technologies.”

The competition is open to all, not just to students, and further information can be found by visiting the website.

The euRathlon competitions will be supported by annual workshops, focused on euRathlon scenarios, and intended primarily for student/researcher competitors or teams planning to compete. In parallel, there will be an open process of developing benchmarks to allow comparison of different robots in the euRathlon competitions, and for adoption in the wider community.

Linked public engagement activities will connect euRathlon with robotics research, industry and emergency services, as well as the general public.

To view images of robots in action click here.

Photos courtesy of ELROB and SAUC-E competitions and the Center for Advanced Aerospace Technology.

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