Back in 2010 DARPA announced the ARM (Autonomous Robotic Manipulation) Program, which has the ambitious goal of solving a number of complex grasping and manipulation challenges. Plastic Pals was one of the first websites to report on this program (read more about ARM’s objectives in our original article here).
The four year program has entered its second phase, having moved from a single-armed robot to a dual-armed version built by RE2 using components by Barrett (7-DOF WAM arms, force-torque sensors in its wrists, and three-fingered hands with pressure sensitivity). The ARM Robot (affectionately called “Robbie” despite the popularity of “Oliver” in an online vote) has a face only a mother could love, containing a BumbleBee2 stereo camera, a Prosilica high resolution camera, an SR4000 Swiss Ranger infrared camera, and microphones.
Its next task will be to change a tire on a small car; whether that means a Mini Cooper or some sort of scale model is unclear. By the end of the program, DARPA hopes the robot will be capable of executing these sorts of tasks autonomously with humans verbally commanding the robot to do what they want. In the original program brief, actions included the unpinning and tossing of a grenade, so things are bound to get exciting. Whether or not DARPA plans to combine these results with those of their other humanoid robotics challenge (which has a similar deadline) is still unknown.
Currently the robot appears to rely on special markers to find and recognize objects, but in the future it won’t have such conveniences. For now, it seems the ARM robot still lags behind other robots as it reinvents the wheel. Take, for example, the similarly named ARMAR-III (developed at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany), which is able to find and grasp a wide assortment of household objects inside of a mock kitchen. It analyzes and solves complex manipulation tasks (e.g. loading and unloading a dishwasher) using its OpenGrasp software toolkit. And unlike the stationary Robbie with its gangly Barrett components, ARMAR-III is fully mobile and has more human-like proportions and hands.
Watch IEEE Spectrum get up close and personal with Robbie in the following video: