Rescue Robot for Disaster Relief Wins Open Innovation Challenge

Published Jan-23-17

A robot capable of helping humans in high-risk areas during disaster situations.

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South Korea

The Story:

Rescue Robot for Disaster Relief Wins Open Innovation Challenge In March 2011, Japan was rocked by a mega-earthquake and tsunami. The natural disaster crippled the Fukushima nuclear power station, leading to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Workers at the power plant tried to limit the damage by entering the reactor buildings to manually vent accumulated hydrogen. However, they were forced to turn back because of high radiation levels. In the following days, hydrogen accumulated, fueling explosions that ripped through the building and contaminated the environment, worsening the crisis.

In response to the problems faced by workers trying to mitigate the effects of the disaster, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) launched the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). This was an open innovation contest for teams to accelerate progress in robotics so that one day, robots will be able to work alongside responders in disaster areas, taking on tasks that are too dangerous for humans.

DARPA Robotics Challenge

The contest was held between 2012 and 2015, and resulted in 23 teams (a dozen from the United States and 11 from Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Italy and Hong Kong) making it through to the two-day finals event. Participants hailed from some of the most advanced robotic organizations in the world.

May the Best Robot Win

The robots had to compete on an obstacle course that comprised several tasks that simulated working in a disaster area. The tasks included climbing a flight of stairs, drilling a hole through a wall, opening a valve, dealing with rubble and driving a car. To prevent the teams from pre-programming their robots a surprise task was added to the proceedings. This required the robots to take out a plug from an electrical socket it and place it in a different socket. To win the competition, a team had to complete all the tasks successfully in the shortest amount of time.


The open innovation competition's first prize and a check for $2 million were awarded to Team KAIST from the Republic of Korea. Their DRC-Hubo robot successfully completed the entire course in 44 minutes and 28 seconds. Taking second place and a check for $1 million was Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, and its Running Man robot (completed the course in 50 minutes 26 seconds). Third place and a $500,000 check went to Tartan Rescue of Pittsburgh, and its robot CHIMP (completed the course in 55 minutes 15 seconds).

“This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters,” said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar. “I am so proud of all the teams that participated and know that the community that the DRC has helped to catalyze will do great things in the years ahead.”

Next Steps

In addition to assisting humans in disaster situations, the winning robots could also be developed for other uses. For example, in agriculture, construction and around the home. DARPA planned no further activities for the robots post the open innovation challenge, but expects the efforts will be continued with a number of international events. The agency saw its role as kick starting the process.

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