Meet DARPA's 6'2" disaster-response robot
July 16th, 2013
10:18 AM ET

Meet DARPA's 6'2" disaster-response robot

By Heather Kelly, CNN

At six-foot-two and 330 pounds, this hulking first responder has all the qualities you'd want in the field after a disaster:  strength, endurance and calm under pressure. Better yet, it has two sets of hands, 28 hydraulic joints, stereo cameras in its head and an onboard computer.

The ATLAS humanoid robot, which looks vaguely like something from the "Terminator" movies, was created by Boston Dynamics for DARPA, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. It will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition that invites engineers to create a remotely controlled robot that can respond to natural or man-made disasters.

The winning robot could be used in situations deemed too dangerous for humans, like the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The DRC is broken up into three challenges. The first was the Virtual Robotics Challenge, in which 26 teams controlled simulated, 3-D robots. Only seven of those teams - including participants from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - were chosen to go on to the next stage. They will each get their very own ATLAS for the Robotics Challenge Trials, a real-life obstacle course competition between robots that will take place this December in Florida.

As part of the challenge, the teams will program their humanoid robot to accomplish a range of tasks. ATLAS will need to drive a car, navigate complicated terrain on foot and move rubble in order to enter a building. It will also have to climb stairs and use various tools to do things like turn off valves or break through concrete walls.

ATLAS has modular wrists so that it can swap out hands and attach third-party mitts to better handle specific tasks. The robot's head also has LIDAR to better gather information about the surrounding area.

The robots will need to be able to complete tasks on their own without constant human control, which will be a key feature if they are in situations where communications are spotty. DARPA also wants the final robots to be easily controlled by people who have had minimal amounts of training, so that the technology is accessible to more people on short notice.

The teams whose robots perform the best at the trials later this year will continue to receive funding and compete in the competition's final stage in December 2014. The Robotics Challenge Finals will put the robots through a full disaster scenario that will include eight tasks each robot must complete.

In addition to improving future disaster response, winners of the 27-month competition will receive a $2 million prize.

The ATLAS robots are the result of a $10 million contract with Boston Dynamics, the Massachusetts engineering and robotics-design company.  That amount covers eight robots, in-field support and any necessary maintenance.

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Filed under: Innovation • Military • Robots • Science • Tech
January 18th, 2013
10:43 AM ET

Skip Rizzo: Deploying virtual therapies for the real stresses of combat

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) -  Skip Rizzo is a wizard of the virtual world, a clinical psychologist and anything but your average lab geek. He’s also a key combatant in the U.S. military’s battle against post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Rizzo's lab is a part of The University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies.

Watch CNN at 2 p.m. ET on January 27 to see a half-hour look inside Rizzo's world. Here's a primer on why he's a member of CNN's The Next List:

Why you might know him: Rizzo grabbed headlines back in 2006 with "Virtual Iraq," a virtual reality PTSD therapy for combat veterans. The treatment combines latest in gaming technology with a clinical approach to treating PTSD called prolonged exposure therapy. "Virtual Iraq" is used in more than 50 Veterans Affairs hospitals in the United States.

Why he matters: Despite advances in PTSD treatment, Rizzo believes America can do more for its troops. His current effort is called STRIVE - and it's designed to prevent PTSD by intervening before a war deployment. Funded in part by grants from both the Army and Navy research communities, the 30-chapter virtual reality program will use a fully immersive, “'Band of Brothers'-like” simulation to better prepare service members for the pressures of combat before their boots hit the ground. Research trials will begin at California’s Camp Pendleton this spring.

His philosophy: Rizzo says his calling is to "take care of the folks who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms."

Oh, he's also into skull collecting: Rizzo is Harley-riding rugby player with a penchant for collecting skulls.

Why combat-related PTSD matters: One in 5 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to George Washington University. That’s nearly 300,000 veterans as of October 2012. And the social and economic costs of PTSD are immense. First-year treatment alone costs the government $8,300 per person, or more than $2 billion so far. Suicides among active-duty military personnel averaged one per day in 2012. Veterans now account for 20% of suicides in the U.S., with the youngest (age 24 and younger) taking their lives at four times the rate of older veterans.

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Filed under: Gaming • Military • Science • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
Could lasers solve the military's friendly-fire problem?
August 9th, 2012
04:03 PM ET

Could lasers solve the military's friendly-fire problem?

By Maria LaMagna, Special to CNN

(CNN) - A member of Tom Potendyk's unit in Desert Storm was killed by friendly fire. Keith Kellogg also experienced a blue-on-blue killing while he was serving in Panama during Operation Just Cause.

Now, the pair are executives at Cubic, a company that has developed a device that could significantly reduce military deaths caused by friendly fire. Called the DCID-TALON, or Dismounted Combat ID with Target Location & Navigation, the device incorporates laser technology to combat a lack of situational awareness, which is one of the most common causes of friendly fire deaths.

The DCID-TALON works when its user spots a target in his or her scope. The shooter aims the device, which sends an encoded message by laser beam. If the target is friendly, the message will reflect off of the target’s retroreflectors (they are the size of a postage stamp and can be embedded in the soldier’s helmet and uniform; each soldier would be outfitted with multiple retroreflectors), and the device will display the word “friend.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Military • Science • Tech
Army-approved winter gloves work with touchscreens
Agloves allow wearers to operate the touchscreen on a smartphone.
February 13th, 2012
11:04 AM ET

Army-approved winter gloves work with touchscreens

By Mark Milian, CNN

(CNN) - The U.S. Army has been working for about two years on outfitting its soldiers with smartphones, but one obstacle to this technological upgrade likely will be familiar to anybody who has tried to operate a touchscreen phone in the winter:

Smartphones and gloves do not get along.

Rather than putting government money toward developing a new type of glove, the Army went on a little shopping spree. If the government is coming late to smartphones, and buying those from stores instead of building them, then surely someone must have solved this problem.

They aren't mainstream yet, but several companies indeed sell gloves that let the wearer operate a touchscreen without taking them off. And as more people discover the limits of their Android companions on a snowy day, these types of gloves could take off. FULL POST

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Filed under: Fashion • Military • Tech