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Robots Will Drive Polaris RANGER ATVs in DARPA Robotics Challenge

Robots will drive Polaris Industries Limited Edition DARPA RANGER XP 900 EPS all-terrain vehicles during the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals to be held June 5-6, at the Fairplex, in Pomona, California, according to a Polaris Industries Inc., press release.

Teams guided robots through eight individual, physical tasks, with one of the most difficult employing the RANGER XP900 EPS to help demonstrate robots’ ability to operate vehicles.

The upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge is meant to spur development of robotics technologies that can help humans more safely respond to future disasters. Recent disasters, such as the partial meltdown, fire, and radiation leakage of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, showed the limitations of human disaster response due to extreme danger to those responding. The disaster has also shown the limitations of present-day robots, with a snakebot sent in to look for melted core materials possibly put out of commission by the high levels of radiation within the containment vessel. The DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals simulate a real disaster situation, requiring robots to perform a number of tasks in a continuous course, according to the release.

MIT DRC

MIT team members watch a robot drive a Polaris RANGER XP900 during the 2013 DRC event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Polaris Industries photo

In one of the most difficult tasks, DARPA will use the RANGER XP 900 EPS to help demonstrate a robot’s ability to operate and to egress from a vehicle. One of the best-selling vehicles in its class, according to the company, the Polaris RANGER XP 900 is widely used around the world with disaster-relief organizations such as the National Guard, Salvation Army, and other first responders.

The more difficult driving test during the upcoming finals will require robots to drive the side-by-side all-terrain vehicles on a roadway and weave through obstacles. The robots will then have to exit the vehicle and attempt to intervene in a mock disaster site where humans would not be able to take part due to danger.

“We are excited to continue our relationship with DARPA after the successful DRC Trials in 2013,” said Rich Haddad, general manager of Polaris Defense. “Off-road vehicles are some of the most useful vehicles in disaster relief, and our specialized RANGER vehicles were built to accommodate the robots and provide mobility for the driving task. In the future, the versatility of the RANGER platform would allow a robot to transport tools, equipment, supplies and power around a disaster site, while traversing the difficult terrain often found in disaster situations.”

Initial trials for the DARPA Robotics Challenge took place Dec.20-21, 2013 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Teams guided robots through eight individual, physical tasks, with one of the most difficult employing the RANGER XP900 EPS to help demonstrate robots’ ability to operate vehicles. The more difficult driving test during the upcoming finals will require robots to drive the side-by-side all-terrain vehicles on a roadway and weave through obstacles. The robots will then have to exit the vehicle and attempt to intervene in a mock disaster site where humans would not be able to take part due to danger.

Polaris DRC RANGER

The Limited Edition DARPA Polaris RANGER® XP 900 EPS to be used during the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge event. Polaris Industries photo

The DARPA Robotics Challenge overall winner will receive a $2 million grand prize, with $1 million going to the runner-up and $500,000 to the third-place team.

Polaris Industries customized the Limited Edition DARPA Ranger XP 900 EPS with a remote SafeStop electronic throttle kill, brake actuation technology, a 1000-pound (453 kg) capacity bed for the robot’s power supply, and a bench seat and tilt steering inside the cab so that there is ample room for robots to operate the vehicle and egress when necessary. To maneuver the diverse types of terrains encountered in disasters without running the risk of flats, the vehicles are also equipped with TERRAINARMOR™ airless tires, according to the release.

“The purpose-built DARPA RANGERs are part of our continuing effort to lead the way in creating extremely-capable off-road vehicle platforms that are plug-and-play for the robotics companies,” said Haddad. “This means incorporating by-wire control technology and helping to provide information about the vehicles to make safe autonomous operation possible. With all of this, autonomy companies can more easily integrate the needed hardware and software for unmanned, optionally-manned and tele-operated off-road vehicles.”