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DARPA's robot changes tire, aspires to defuse bombs

New video shows a two-handed robot changing a tire by itself. The research could pave the way for a new generation of robotic peacekeepers capable of taking on tasks too dangerous for humans.

One small step for autonomous robots, one giant leap for mankind.
Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

In the future, the U.S. Army could rely on low-cost ambidextrous autonomous robots, instead of bomb disposal technicians or remote control robots, to defuse improvised explosive devices. Better yet, activating and operating the smart robots may only require a nearby solider to say, "Go find and defuse the bomb."

As a precursor to that end goal, DARPA's Autonomous Robotic Manipulation program released a video that shows a robot changing a tire by itself. The robot, complete with a camera and an array of sensors, successfully uses two hands (one equipped with a drill) to remove a tire and put a new one in its place. A small screen shows the robot's virtual view of the tire, which reveals how software algorithms detect each the scene and its minute details in real time.

As the New York Times reports, DARPA's robot isn't capable of reattaching the tire -- yet -- but the government think-tank isn't too far away from accomplishing the task.

To further evolve the robotic hands, DARPA's working with iRobot and Sandia National Laboratory, as well as tapping software experts from the University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon University, and NASA. The work could result in a low-cost robotic hand which, in large quantities, may only cost around $3,000 to build -- a bargain compared with traditional costs of $10,000 or more.

Additionally, DARPA says this example of highly advanced robotic grasping, manipulation, and situational awareness could eventually lead to the creation of an autonomous robot capable of searching suspicious bags and/or defusing a bomb.