This is an incredibly exciting week for the robotics world! On June 5, the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) finals kick off in Pomona, California, where some of the world’s best in robotics will come together to compete. This contest marks the conclusion of a three-year competition to create a new class of first responder robots. I’ll be there with a few members of the GE robotics team to present at the DRC Expo.

The DRC was initially established by the Department of Defense to support humanitarian and disaster relief operations. TheWashington Post outlined the tremendous challenges humans face in disaster zones. As you can imagine, some disasters prove too great in severity and scale for timely and effective human response, often due to health and safety risks faced by rescue and aid workers.  The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, and the subsequent limited robotic response, is one such example that proved to be a major inspiration for the DRC.

The Challenge course is designed to be extremely difficult. It will require robots, most of which are humanoid, to attempt a circuit of consecutive physical tasks including driving a vehicle, climbing over rubble, operating doors and valves, climbing stairs, and cutting through walls – all with degraded communications between the robots and their operators.

While GE isn’t in the disaster response robotics business, you can imagine many of the technologies developed are very relevant to our Service Robotics mission to help our customers improve productivity and safety in dull, dirty, and dangerous industrial environments. In fact, some of the key technology enablers for the DRC competition run parallel to some of the technologies we’re developing, specifically: robotic perception, enabling robots to build models of the unconstrained and dynamic world around them; autonomous navigation, enabling our robots to move with little or no human intervention in complex industrial environments (refineries, power plants, rail yards, factories, etc.); and mobile manipulation, enabling robots to seamlessly and safely interact with and manipulate things in their world.

We are at the very beginning of a service robotics revolution. Mastering the areas above will be key for this new class of brilliant machines. Many of the trends we see impacting the digital world are now injecting themselves back into the physical realm in the form of the Industrial Internet, the Internet of Things (IoT) more broadly, and by extension, robotics. Service robots will feed into the Industrial Internet and the IoT as new sources of knowledge and information. Service robots also act as an important physical extension of these worlds – moving from data, analytics, information, and decision support, to new autonomous aides that help us physically manage dull, dirty, and dangerous work.

At GE, we have a unique perspective and understanding of what the industrial world needs – which is why we believe service robotics will have tremendous impact on the future of industry and the future of work. We’re working across the GE portfolio with key customers in developing service robotics solutions for everything from manufacturing productivity and safety to field service and healthcare operations optimization.

If you are attending the DRC, please stop by booth #6 to learn more about what we’re working on!

About the author

John Lizzi

Manager of the Distributed Intelligent Systems Laboratory at GE Global Research