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Google robot wins Pentagon rescue challenge

A robot made by a Japanese start-up that Google has bought has won a rescue competition organised by Darpa in the US.

It begins. We already knew Google saw robots as a big part of its future, and now here's one of its robo-crew outperforming its rivals. A 'bot made by a Japanese start-up that Google bought has won a competition held by the Pentagon in the US, the BBC reports.

The competition was held by Darpa, the Pentagon's research unit. Google's entry, Schaft, wiped the floor with its rivals in all eight rescue-themed tasks. Schaft, along with the other top scorers, can now apply for more Darpa funds to compete in the finals of the competition, held next year.

The competition wasn't a frivolous robo-fest like the robot world cup. There was a serious intent behind it. Darpa said it organised the challenge after it saw robots could only play a limited role in efforts to contain the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan.

"What we realised was… these robots couldn't do anything other than observe," Gill Pratt, programme manager or the Darpa Robotics Challenge, told the BBC. "What they needed was a robot to go into that reactor building and shut off the valves."

The robots had to complete a number of rescue-themed tasks, including driving a utility vehicle along a course, climbing a ladder, removing debris blocking a doorway, and pulling open a lever-handled door.

Schaft is 4 feet 11 inches tall. It uses a new high-voltage, liquid-cooled motor technology that's powered by a capacitor rather than a battery. This lets its arms move and pivot faster, making it stronger.

Here it is climbing a ladder. Very slowly. 

Schaft is a lot less terrifying than some of its stablemates in Google's roster of robo-pets. Google recently acquired Boston Dynamics, which makes scary beasts like WildCat, seen in action below.

What do you think of Google getting into robotics? A cause for good? Or is it a slippery slope to the future as envisaged in Terminator 2? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.