They’re frightening looking, the robots. Adult-male-tall humanoid tangles of metal, cables, and circuitry form beings that are more like the jaegers from Pacific Rim than the servantile beings in iRobot. And one day, the descendants of these pieces of technology may save you from a burning building.
This weekend, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agencies) is hosting a competition for robot first responders in Florida. Seventeen teams — from universities, private companies, and NASA — are competing to demonstrate how their creations can be the first responders of the future. As brave as a person can be, there are still some work environments completely unsuitable for humans. For example: a radioactive spill at a nuclear-power plant. The robots will compete in tasks that seem basic to us humans — drive a vehicle through an obstacle course, climb a ladder, remove debris from a door, open that door, use power tools, and unreel a hose. If you’re bored at work today, DARPA is broadcasting the trials live: