|IHMC showing draws more attention to the region
Dec. 22, 2013
...While Airbus promises to make the Gulf Coast region a showcase in the field of
aerospace, a home-grown organization that's attracted some of the best scientific talent in
the world is making this region a showcase in the dynamic and growing field of robotics.
...The Pensacola-based Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition came in
second in a two-day robotic competition at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend,
beaten only be a team from Japan. Sixteen teams competed, and IHMC outscored every
team from the United States, including Carnegie Mellon, MIT, NASA and other
internationally known names.
...IHMC scored 20 points overall, and received perfect scores in five of the eight
challenges. IHMC and seven other competitors will be moving on in the finals of the
DARPA robotics challenge and the millions in grant money.
...The competition was the second phase of a multi-phase challenge that won’t wrap up
until next year at the earliest. IHMC won the first challenge, handily beating all competitors
when it scored the most points in the virtual competition during the summer.
...The second phase in Miami involved incorporating those computer programs into full-
scale working robot models and having them compete in eight challenges, including
driving cars, climbing ladders and using power tools. The challenge tested the robots'
mobility, dexterity, perception and autonomous operations.
...The winning robot of this phase was S-One, a two-legged robot built by engineers at
Japan’s SCHAFT Inc., a robotics firm owned by Google. It scored 27 of a possible 32
points across all challenges. IHMC scored 20, two better than third-place Carnegie Mellon
and four better than MIT.
...IHMC was one of the seven competitors from the first phase that received a robot from
DARPA, the 6-foot-tall Atlas built by Boston Dynamics, recently purchased by Google.
The other competitors built robots specifically for this competition.
..."It was an incredible two days at the DARPA Challenge, full of ups and downs,” said Ken
Ford, founder and CEO of IHMC. He said the Pensacola team had only four points at the
end of Friday's first day competition, “but went on a tear on day two, dropping only two
...An article in Live Science said IHMC Robotics “had an impressive showing during the
second day of competition, making efforts to close the gap between the top two teams.
When the team's two-legged humanoid robot successfully navigated through three
different types of doorways, the robot's engineers and the surrounding spectators
erupted into loud cheers and applause.”
...Ford points out that all the competitors had problems with hardware, weather and
communications, “but the team persevered” and won Category B, those teams with
government-supplied Atlas robots, and finished second overall.
...Ford said IHMC’s budget was a small percentage of the budgets of the other front-
runners, and it was the only team in the top three using a bipedal humanoid robot. Other
top contenders used special purpose robots made specifically for this event.
...Indeed, the third-place team made up of engineers from Carnegie Mellon University and
the National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh, designed a 400-pound robot that
resembles a human but rolls on rubberized tracks like a tank, according to Live Science.
...DARPA, responsible for developing breakthrough technologies for the military,
organized the contest as a way to spur the development of new robots that could one day
respond to natural and man-made disasters.
...The highest-scoring teams will move on to the next phase of the competition, the
DARPA Robotics Finals, which will be held 12 to 18 months. Teams that move on to the
finals will have the chance to compete for $2 million in prize money.
...The strong finish of IHMC could go a long way towards the economic development of the
Gulf Coast region. The eyes of the international community transfixed on the Gulf Coast
region in 2012 when Airbus chose Mobile, Ala., for an A320 final assembly line.
...Actually, the region already had significant aerospace operations, including NASA’s
Stennis Space Center, Miss., and the Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which develops aerial
weapons and is the home of the F-35 training center.
...But Airbus’ decision caused many to take a closer look at what the region has to offer.
...IHMC has been an important player in robotics and has built a solid international
reputation, but it’s not been widely known to the general public. The DARPA competition
may change that.
...And that attention could help the region's efforts in aerospace. Aviation is an important
user of robotic systems. In fact, one of the fastest-growing segments of aerospace is
unmanned, robotic aircraft.
...IHMC’s showing is another indication of what this region has to offer. - David Tortorano,