Fleet-of-foot robots could win $200,000

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Honda's stair climbing ASIMO could be a contender for the US$200,000 'W' Prize

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A prize of US$200,000 is being offered for the first robot that can successfully move 10 km (6.2 miles) within 10,000 seconds. Sound easy? Well, to claim the “W” Prize the robot must also negotiate four sets of obstacles that would stand in the way of ordinary wheeled vehicles, but could be easily overcome by a pedestrian. The robot must also accomplish this task using no more than 10 kj per kg of machine mass – in other words, less energy than it would take for a human to do the same task.

The course the robots must navigate is designed to be economically replicable at most universities worldwide, so that entrants can compete for the Prize at the time and place of their choosing. The four sets of obstacles are to be arranged along a 100 meter track, which the robot must circuit 50 times to complete the total 10km course length.

The obstacles are as follows:

  1. Size-limiting arch: To exclude large machines, (no monster trucks thank-you), an arch is designed to limit the size of the robots to something comparable to a person. The machine must enter the arch without external assistance, and position itself in any orientation at rest while contained entirely within the arch. The course will begin and end with the arch and at the end of each out-and-back circuit of the course, the machine must completely exit the arch, reverse direction, and re-enter. As a test of dexterity, the machine must make each reversal in no more than four seconds.
  • Elevated stepping stones: To test delicacy as well as dexterity the machine must negotiate a series of 20 unevenly-spaced “cinder block” stepping stones. Although the first and 20th blocks must remain standing throughout, the machine may move or knock down the remaining blocks, so long as it uses only upright blocks for support. Each pass of the blocks must be completed in under 25 seconds.
  • Now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t ditch: As a test of robustness to disturbances, the machine must cross a set of three slightly elevated panels, the center one of which will be removed (while the machine is elsewhere) on a randomly-selected set of half of the passes through the course. An entrant will not be informed of the remove-and-replace sequence chosen for any given attempt on the Prize.
  • Staircase: On at least one pass in five (once every kilometer) the machine must climb to the top landing of a set of stairs, and then descend the stairs back onto the track. This is required on only a few circuits in order to prevent the task contributing excessively to energy consumption.
  • The stepping stones and the ditch are to be centered anywhere within 10m of the quarter and three quarter points along the course, while the arch and staircase are located at opposite ends of the course. The location of the obstacles can also be measured precisely prior to an attempt to allow for differential-GPS to be used for navigation if desired, rather than some sort of obstacle-detection system. The course can also be marked or fitted with sensors as desired, so long as they don’t provide energy to the machine.

    Other rules include a “No-Batmobiles rule” which states the machine must use the same set of supports on all parts of the course, (eg. No wheels on the flat bits then arms and legs for the obstacles), a “No-Frankenstein rule”, which says no living tissue can be used as a functional component of the machine, and an “If-God-wanted-us-to-fly rule”, which says a supporting surface of the machine must be in contact with the ground at least once in any three-second interval – so walking, running, jumping and crawling are admissible, but flying isn’t.

    A committee of three referees - Tad McGeer, Ivan Sutherland and Richard van der Linde - will hold the Prize money in an escrow account, accumulating interest and contributions from sponsors, until the prize is awarded. Prospective participants must report a short report and video to the referees to indicate their readiness for an attempt on the Prize. The referees will then arrange for observation of the attempt, which may be done by a designated local observer rather than by one of the referees.

    Parties interested in entering their robotic pride and joy in the “W” Prize can contact the Referees Committee via the website.

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