Word on the street is that DARPA is following up its autonomous vehicles Grand Challenge with a humanoid robots challenge. According to Travis Deyle:
It seems we’re going to have a new DARPA Grand Challenge! The BAA with formal details should be out very soon, but for now we’re bringing you the unofficial, preliminary details based on notes from Dr. Gill Pratt’s talk at DTRA Industry Day: The new Grand Challenge is for a humanoid robot (with a bias toward bipedal designs) that can be used in rough terrain and for industrial disasters. The robot will be required to maneuver into and drive an open-frame vehicle (eg. tractor), proceed to a building and dismount, ingress through a locked door using a key, traverse a 100 meter rubble-strewn hallway, climb a ladder, locate a leaking pipe and seal it by closing off a nearby valve, and then replace a faulty pump to resume normal operations — all semi-autonomously with just “supervisory teleoperation.” That’s a tough challenge, but it should be fun! It looks like there will be six hardware teams to develop new robots, and twelve software teams using a common platform (PETMAN anyone?!). The most crazy part about all of this: The United States is getting back into the humanoid robot game… in a big way! […]
The US has largely turned its back on legged humanoid robots over the last two decades (unlike Japan). I actually thought this was a good? thing, particularly for service and home robots, but perhaps the military perspective is altogether different? This is sort of ironic given that Japanese roboticists are (somewhat) refocusing on non-legged robots in the wake of the Fukushima embarrassment. [For those not in the know, Japanese roboticists have been chided by the government for their inability to apply robots in the disaster. Furthermore, there was some embarrassment when iRobot, a foreign company, stepped in to lend robotic assistance. ]
Hizook: New DARPA Grand Challenge for Humanoid Robots — Preliminary (Unofficial) Details
May 5, 2012 at 11:44 am
One large advantage of a humanoid robot is that it could be programmed to use existing technology: Lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, power drills, cars, etc. are built with control surfaces that assume an adult human.
Using a human shape as a basic format for robotic development will increase the short-term utility of those robots. Ultimately, not-designed-for human interfaces for tools will predominate, but human-like size, shape and appendages are a good place to start