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DARPA Expands Robotics Program

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program has launched an effort to use engineering, better design tools, fabrication methods, and control algorithms to build better robots.

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The Department of Defense research arm has launched a new robotics program aimed at creating machines to bolster military and defense activities and help human U.S. military personnel work more effectively.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA'S) Maximum Mobility and Manipulation Program (M3) brings together some existing robotics projects at the agency while also launching a new effort to use engineering, better design tools, fabrication methods, and control algorithms to build better robots, according to an agency spokesman, who asked not to be named.

M3 has four parallel tracks that will be developed concurrently by the agency: design tools, fabrication methodologies, control methods, and technology demonstration prototypes. DARPA has contracted with different universities and companies to handle the work of each of the project's individual tracks, it said. Carnegie Mellon University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of California Santa Cruz, Raytheon, and Vecna Technologies will work with DARPA to build design tools that can predict the mobility and manipulation performance of robots, according to the agency.

Meanwhile, researchers at several universities -- Cornell, Harvard, Tufts, and University of California, Berkeley -- will be responsible for the task of making it cheaper and more efficient to build robots through improved fabrication technologies.

To develop and demonstrate better control methods for robots -- such as environment-based dynamic gait selection, dynamic gait and body mass modulation, and dynamic stability control -- DARPA is working with Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Georgia Tech Research Institute, iRobot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tekrona, and University of California at Santa Barbara, it said.

Finally, Boston Dynamics, Carnegie Mellon University, HRL, iRobot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Other Lab, and the University of Florida's Institute of Human and Machine Cognition will work with DARPA to develop new innovation in robot prototypes.

M3 is not DARPA's exclusive robotics program, but it does include some projects already in existence, a spokesperson said Monday. For example, the Legs Squad Support Program (LS3) to build a four-legged robot prototype that will follow a military squad into combat and carry equipment for them is now a part of M3, he said.

Another project called Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) also will soon be part of M3, although a date for inclusion has not been specified, he said. ARM aims to build autonomous, two-armed robots that have the ability to determine and see objects they need to pick up as well as recognize and do what they need to do with those objects, according to the spokesperson.

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