As We See It

UNLV places eighth at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals

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Dr. Kiwon Sohn and others take the Metal Rebel robot through its paces in the newly built UNLV lab for its drone and robotics programs on Thursday, April 23, 2015.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

A UNLV Rebel placed eighth at an international engineering competition this past weekend. Did we mention that Rebel doesn’t have a brain?

Standing at 5 foot 5 and 175 pounds, UNLV’s humanoid robot Metal Rebel was one of 23 bots competing in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s annual Robotics Challenge Finals, held June 5 and 6 in Southern California.

Launched with the goal of accelerating robotics progress, the DARPA competition was a response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. With the hope that someday robots might aid disaster response in areas too dangerous for humans, the bots participating in the DARPA challenge had to perform eight disaster response-related tasks like opening a valve, traversing a debris-filled field and cutting a hole in a wall with a tool. The bots also had to climb stairs and even drive a vehicle. Each team was given an hour to finish the tasks, and UNLV's Metal Rebel mastered six of the eight. (Others only completed one or two.)

And while a team of post-graduate students led by robotics expert and UNLV professor Dr. Paul Oh actually worked on Metal Rebel, toying and tinkering away in UNLV’s recently-opened Drones and Autonomous Systems Labs, PhD engineering student and DARPA team publicity coordinator Maria Ramos says the school also offers opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to get involved with robotics. “We don’t have that experience yet, which is why we get to work on robots like Jaemi,” says Ramos, referring to UNLV’s other humanoid robot. “It’s rare for undergrad students to work on robots.”

Ramos says she believes UNLV's presence at contests like DARPA have really put UNLV “on the map” in the field of robotics and adds that the opportunity to gain hands-on robotics experience prior to a PhD is an enticing factor for students deciding where to study engineering. Considering UNLV took eighth place while competing against prestigious tech-focused schools like MIT and various robotics firms from across the globe, it's difficult to argue otherwise.

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