Ohio State engineers gear up for war robot competition down under
Published: Monday, November 8, 2010
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 23:06
Three Ohio State engineers are gearing up in Australia this week to compete in an international robotics competition with a grand prize of $750,000.
The competition — called MAGIC 2010 — is a new contest geared toward developing "teams of robots that can operate autonomously on the battlefield in dangerous situations, keeping soldiers out of harm's way," according to a U.S. Army press release.
The U.S. and Australian departments of defense host the competition, also known as the Multi Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge.
Umit Ozgüner, an electrical and computer engineering professor at OSU, leads OSU's competitors, who are part of a team organized by the Turkish military electronics company ASELSAN. The team, named Team Cappadocia, includes members from three Turkish universities.
Ozgüner said the distance between OSU and Turkey, more than 5,000 miles, made teamwork a challenge.
"The most difficult part of this challenge has been the distance between the group in Turkey and us here in the U.S.," Ozgüner said. "We've had weekly teleconferences, and the team has gone to Ankara twice."
The trips to Turkey, however, were no vacation.
"We had some intense practice runs," Ozgüner said. "We were going in at 8 a.m. and coming back after midnight some days."
The competition is made up of three phases that increase in difficulty. The team has three-and-a-half hours to navigate the robots through three courses, which include mapping a "village," identifying static and mobile obstacles, and avoiding a simulated "sniper."
Team Cappadocia will attempt to complete the competition with six robots, which can cost from $10,000 to $20,000 to build, Ozgüner said.
Jim Overholt, senior research scientist in robotics for the U.S. Army, will judge the competition. Scoring is based on factors including time, the level of human intervention and execution of the missions.
Overholt said he believes competitions simulating real warfare are instrumental to combat.
"We're seeing a wide variety of uses for robots, including surveillance, autonomous fuel convoys and road-side bomb diffusion," Overholt said in an e-mail. "At MAGIC 2010, we're focusing on mapping a huge space and having few human operators overseeing a team of robots to complete that task."
Overholt emphasized the importance of developing technology that doesn't require risking lives.
"Right now, there are about 8,000 robots currently fielded in war efforts," Overholt said. "At first, we've developed robots to do the ‘dull, dirty and dangerous work' to keep our soldiers safe. Quite frankly, we'd much rather lose a robot in a war effort than a soldier. But now, with efforts like MAGIC, we're looking to get more out of our robots."
Ozgüner's team, made up of six researchers and graduate students, has participated both internationally and in autonomous driving competitions but is relatively new to robots. In 2004 and 2007, the team participated in challenges hosted by the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.
"We made it to the finals in all of them but never won," Ozgüner said. "We're hopeful, but interestingly enough, we don't have much experience in robots. This is sort of a test run for us."
Team Cappadocia members hope to top their four competitors for the grand prize. Regardless of results, Overholt said the members should be proud.
"Team Cappadocia should be extremely proud of their success in reaching this final evaluation in Australia," Overholt said. "It's an experience that I'm sure none of them will ever forget."
The top three teams will be awarded prizes of $750,000, $250,000 and $100,000, respectively, at next week's Land Warfare Conference in Brisbane, Australia.