DARPA wants robots with more stamina

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The trouble with robots, says DARPA, is that no matter how good they are, they have an annoying tendency to run out of juice. It's no good carrying heavy equipment halfway to where it's needed; even worse is a robot that gets halfway though disarming a roadside bomb.

So that's why DARPA has launched what it's calling the M3 Actuation program, with the aim of achieving a whopping 2,000 percent increase in robot efficiency.

Part of the problem is the way robots move. While living creatures have evolved to use as little energy as possible when moving around, robots are nowhere near as efficient.

"By exploring multiple aspects of robot design, capabilities, control and production, we hope to converge on an adaptable core of robot technologies that can be applied across mission areas," says Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager.

"Success in the M3 Actuation effort would benefit not just robotics programs, but all engineered, actuated systems, including advanced prosthetic limbs."

DARPA's looking for proposals from just about every type ofscientific and engineering specialty. In particular, it says, it's interested in low-loss power modulation, variable recruitment of parallel transducer elements, high-bandwidth variable impedance matching, adaptive inertial and gravitational load cancellation and high-efficiency power transmission between joints.

It's hoping that high-efficiency actuation technology will allow robots like the DARPA Robotics Challenge Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) platform to have twenty times longer endurance than the 10 to 20 minutes they can manage untethered now. The aim is to have something that can be demonstrated by December 2014.

Bright ideas can be filed here.