Carnegie Mellon's CHIMP Looking Good For Upcoming Competition

May 28, 2015

He can turn a wheel, pick up blocks, maneuver stairs and drive a car. He's also a 5-foot tall, 443-pound robotic monkey.

CHIMP, an acronym for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform, was developed by the Tartan Rescue Team, a group of engineers, researchers and technicians within CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center. The team will compete next month for a $2 million first prize in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, or DRC, in Pomona, Calif. against two dozen others.

Designed to promote the development of robots that could assist humans in times of disaster, the DRC tasks teams with eight requests in a “simulated disaster course.”

CHIMP will have one hour to drive a vehicle to the course and navigate his way into a building where he has to clear debris, turn valves and use power tools to cut through walls, among other tasks. The end of the course requires the robot to climb a flight of stairs and exit the building.

Clark Haynes, the leader of CHIMP’s software team, said the inspiration for the competition came from disasters like the Fukushima nuclear accident where human intervention was impossible.

“If you could have sent a human in, you could have diverted a lot of the disaster, but you’d be putting that human at risk,” he said. “So the goal with the robot is you have a surrogate for a human that can go and do the human’s job.”

The Tartan Rescue Team began developing CHIMP in 2012. He placed third out of sixteen teams in the 2013 DRC trials. Since then, team members have tweaked CHIMP’s motor skills and upped his speed.

His operation relies on “supervisory autonomy,” which involves collaboration between human and autonomous operation, Haynes said. If CHIMP needs to shut off a valve, the human operator can point the robot in the right direction and tell it what action to take. He’s programmed to recognize the valve and execute the necessary action on its own.

CHIMP moves on rubber tracks similar to military tanks and can change from a standing to a crawling position relatively quickly, which is part of its “static stability” quality that Haynes cites as its most important attribute.

CHIMP is never in danger of falling down, Haynes said, and new tasks and terrains shouldn’t affect his balance.

The team is optimistic for a strong, 2015 showing, he said.

“We actually just put our robotic monkey in a crate and shipped it off yesterday, so the robot is in transit across country,” Haynes said. “The team is just mentally preparing, getting ready to go and put in a great showing at the competition next week.”