Roboticists are competing in Europe this week to prove their superiority at bomb disposal and other dangerous tasks, but the teams are not comprised of military or emergency response personnel. Instead, unmanned autonomous vehicles and their human operators have gathered in Berchtesgaden, Germany at the first ever Eurathlon, a competition and convention designed to push innovation in smart robots that perform tasks that are too risky for humans.
The five mock disaster-response scenarios are inspired by the demanding outcomes and needs of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. In addition to bomb removal, teams can also compete in scenarios testing reconnaissance and surveillance in urban structures, mobile manipulation, search and rescue in a smoke-filled underground area, and autonomous navigation. Some of the tasks are seemingly amateur or mundane, for example, mobile manipulation for handling hazardous material requires the robot to inspect containers, close faucets, and move objects, yet these simple tasks are absolutely critical in an autonomous mission.
Vehicles can compete in three different classifications, based on their level of autonomy and can be supported by the vehicle’s remote operator and an on-site technical assistant, with human assistance incurring a score deduction. Some challenges are common throughout all the scenarios and represent real-life obstacles for UAVs: low light, closed doors, lack of GPS signal underground, identification of objects of interest, difficult terrain, and navigating stairs and obstacles in motion.
Teams were gradually given more hints as to what a scenario would entail, including pictures of equipment, locations, and obstacles. For instance, in the bomb disposal scenario, teams were advised that their vehicle would need find bombs in three situations: hidden down a stairway and inside something requiring an X-ray; buried outside and requiring digging; and inside a luggage locker and potentially booby-trapped.
Winners have been determined already for some of the scenarios. Though teams weren’t required to compete in every event, two German-based robots placed in multiple events: PackBot EOD 510 representing the firm ELP and telemax from the firm telerob.
Eurathlon is open to researchers, industry professionals, and end users with the goal of supporting communication about the design constraints of each group.The competition has been held concurrently with workshops and displays, and ends tomorrow, September 27. Next year the competition is set to focus on sea based vehicles, and a combined land, sea and air event is planned for 2015.
The video below shows some of the robots in action during the second day of this week's event.