Local team creates robot for $2 million prize

By: Alicia Gentile Email
By: Alicia Gentile Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) A local group of engineers and CMU students are putting their heads together to create a state of the art robot. It's all part of a contest with a $2 million grand prize.

The DARPA’s Robotics Challenge is serving up a tall order for participants competing against each other. The task, build a robot capable of assisting first responders in case of a national emergency, where they would have to enter a highly lethal environment. Jim Crittenden, a retired mechanical engineer, is heading up the project.

“They do have a lot of robots already, but this will be a step above anything that exists. The robot has to do eight specific tasks. Climb an industrial ladder, use a power tool to break through a wall, walk over rubble, open doors, he also has to drive an electric utility car,” said Crittenden.

His partner, Karl Castleton, is a professor at CMU and brought on a handful of students to help. He is also the lead software developer for the team, an important part in helping the robot follow human commands.

“The primary thing that they need is their environment's are so harsh that a human can't be in those environments, so what the software does is allow a human to operate this robot from a distance," said Castleton.

The robot has the capability of using 'telepresence' so the person operating it can see what they're seeing and have the robot grab something if they need to.

The team makes parts for the robot with the click of a mouse. From the computer, to the 3D printer, one to two hours later- you get a part.

“Plastic that's about the same plastic as Lego plastic except for it puts it down in very thin layers, adding one layer on top of another to end up making these three dimensional structures and a bunch of them are on the robot wherever we needed a part that was just too hard to machine,” said Castleton.

The lightweight plastic parts are what will separate this team's robot from the rest.

"Much lighter weights than the other ones, when it comes to doing things like getting into a vehicle, it's much easier to get a 36 pound robot into a car than a 330 pound robot," said Crittenden.

The next step for the team will be the semi-finals this December in Miami and December 2014 is the finals where one team will talk away with a 2 million dollar check.

The Business Incubator Center of the Grand Valley is sponsoring the team and gave them a room to work on the robot at their facility.

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