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Meet the Robots Battling to Become the Future of Disaster Response

17 robots will show off their skills at the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
Images via DARPA

Later this month, 17 robots will show off their skills at the DARPA Robotics Challenge trials to try to convince the judges that they're are the toughest and cleverest androids of the bunch.

The challenge, prompted by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, aims to fast-track the development of robots that can respond in a natural or man-made disaster. The robotic contestants will perform a series of search-and-rescue and crisis response tasks that might be needed in a future disaster: drive a utility vehicle, traverse complex obstacles, remove debris from an entry, open doors, climb a ladder, locate and close valves, connect a hose, and use tools to cut a hole through a wall.


DARPA announced Wednesday that four self-funded teams will join the 13 teams that had previously qualified for the trials, which will be held on December 20-21 in Florida. The finals will take place a year later and the winner of that will go home with DARPA's $2 million prize.

The current group is a mix of self-funded teams, teams backed by the agency, some that developed the hardware and software for their robots, and some who were awarded Boston Dynamics' Atlas humanoid and asked to program software.

Meet a sampling of the disaster-fighting robots that will participate in this month's challenge.


RoboSimian comes out of NASA Jet Propulsion Labs. It has four limbs and hands to make it mobile and dexterous, so it can climb ladders and stairs.


Valkyrie is JPL's humanoid robot. Val is 6' 2" and designed to be perceptive and able to react to a variety of potential scenarios.


Chiron, the crawler robot, has six "legs" to travel over uneven terrain. It's developed by Kairos Autonom in Utah.


Developed by Mojavaton in Colorado, Buddy has four legs instead of two to make it more stable. And it's made with 3D-printed plastic to make it lighter on its feet.


THOR comes from Virginia Tech and stands for Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot. It's designed to be light, agile, resilient, perceptive, and easy to operate.

Also appearing, but not competing, at this event is Boston Dynamics' famed WildCat robot. Watch that baby run.