Japanese Robots: Unboxing SCHAFT’s DRC Competition (VIDEO)

ATLAS Robot Unboxing - DARPA Robotics Challenge

Ohhh boy, an unboxing video that’s not just filler, but 500% justifiable. The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) trials are still 3.5 months away, but Japan’s SCHAFT, and every other Track A team, have to be wondering if they can hope to compete with the contents of that shiny bag.

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The So-Called “Geek Tradition of Product Unboxing” is a Farce!
Photos and/or video of awkward-when-live tech writers carefully de-packaging the newest, hottest, shiniest gadgetry have long been proffered as something genuinely wanted and appreciated by the technological geekosphere. But in truth, unboxings are the media equivalent of a self-replicating memetic thought virus.

Just because Engadget or whomever let one out of the lab back in 2005, the whole tech world suddenly decided they should unbox, too - but in realityland, nobody really cares - they just click because they think others do, and one’s gotta stay hip, and then the publication sees the pageview numbers and decides unboxings are a good idea. But they aren’t. A vocal and tyrannical minority might disagree, but they’re wrong.*

However, there’s always an exception, and one just might have to break out the intellectual salsa and eat the words above, because...

You’ve Never Seen Anything Like This Unboxing - No One Has
What you’ll see come from the box below is some next-level, being-in-the-delivery-room, hasn’t-happened-in-human-history kinda stuff. But first, given our geographic locale we have to set the scene a bit. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick breakdown of what Japan’s offering up for head-to-vaguely-humanoid-head competition in this December’s DARPA Robotics Challenge trials:

That right there is the super-strong biped from Japanese firm SCHAFT Robotics, a Tokyo University JSK Robotics Lab spin-off, and one of only two Japanese entrants in the Fukushima-inspired, American-funded DARPA Robotics Challenge (jump on over to our DRC post if you need to get hip to competition details and Japan’s peculiar presence). SCHAFT is one of the DRC’s Track A contestants, which means they’re bringing both their own machine and their own software to the trials in December 2013. The big red robot with the liquid-cooled electric muscles is quite well regarded, and though the firm is a start-up of sorts, SCHAFT’s proprietary hardware and software are grounded in decades of humanoid robotics R&D; justifiably, they’re considered a top contender among the six official Track A teams (more info, larger images, and video here).

The other Japanese entrant, the mysterious and elusive Team K, was among 9 successful competitors in the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC), a points-based preliminary stage of the larger DRC. Competitors, the Track B/C teams, did not bring an actual nuts & bolts robot to the party, but instead remotely ported their digital kit into standardized virtual robots moving about and interacting in standardized virtual environments - all via an open-source, cloud-based platform monitored and controlled by DARPA. Winners get money, and one of what’s in the box below.

Initially, only the top 6 of the 26 qualifying teams were to receive funding AND one of what’s in the box below. Team K scored enough points to pass the challenge, but they finished 7th overall. Fortunately, they somehow linked-up with the 9th-place team from Case Western University, were gifted some cash from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, AND were given one of what’s in the box below by Hong Kong University. Thus, team HKU was born (don’t worry if this trilaterally internationalized team’s origins don’t make sense to you, we’re right there with you).

Okay, with just a bit further ado, but before we completely bury the lead, it’s time to get to the unboxing of what’s in the box below.

ATLAS is Real, and ATLAS is Shipping
Here’s the thing, those standardized virtual robots mentioned earlier and pictured above, well, this is one case where the robot was real first and virtual second. These man-sized badass robots exist, their development was funded by the U.S. defense department, they’re made by Boston Dynamics, and they’re called ATLAS. They stand 6’3” (182 cm) and weigh in at 330 lbs. (150 kg).

Those who follow robotics have probably seen the videos of ATLAS standing tough in a lab or being shoved around on an industrial treadmill. Impressive, yes - but it's a lab, so very distant from most of our daily lives. But the concept of an ATLAS robot being delivered, seeing the box cracked open up like something from Amazon, it really brings a much finer focus - it brings it closer to the average everyday experiences of our own mundane, robot-free lives.

We're able to appreciate this because staff at MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), 3rd place finishers in the VRC, have been kind to the internet and all of us in the robogeekosphere: they YouTubed a video of Boston Dynamics delivery boys unboxing an MIT roboticist's absolute very best early Christmas present ever.

Japan’s Team K + Team Case Western + Hong Kong University = Team HKU will also receive one for the December DRC trials. They, CSAIL, and five other teams will plug in their software and have a run at an actual physical course. And, you know, you look at the ATLAS robot. Then you look at the SCHAFT robot or any of the other originally designed Track A machines. And you’ve just gotta wonder: do any of them have a chance against what comes of the box down there?

Have a watch, you'll see what we mean.

ATLAS Comes out of the Box:
(video and larger images below)

ATLAS Unboxed:

*AkihabaraNews reserves all rights to completely contradict this statement in the future. But only if it’s for something really cool that’ll get a whole lot of pageviews.

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SOURCES: CSAIL Facebook; DARPA Robotics Challenge; Robohub.org
Images: DARPA; MIT CSAIL; SCHAFT Robotics; AkihabaraNews.com



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