People around the world were watching June 6, as humanoid robot, “Running Man,” drove a car, then got out of the vehicle, walked a few feet and opened a door during The Robotics Challenge competition sponsored by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in Pomona, Ca.
Those in the robotics world knew that this was no small feat, and in fact during the competition, Running Man, created by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) out of Pensacola, was the first robot to complete these tasks, going on to finish six other tasks and take second place overall in the competition.
Software Engineer Doug Stephen, who is a lead researcher for the IHMC team, hails from Destin and gave The Log the low-down on what it took to prepare for the three-year-long competition.
“I’ve been at IHMC for four years and I’ve been working on the DRC (DARPA Robotics Challenge) team since the beginning,” said Stephen. “What I do day-to-day is systems integration which entails bridging our high level software with the low level mechanisms on the robot. I ask, ‘How do we take our software and make it talk to the actual electric and mechanical parts on the robot?’”
Stephen helped create a robotics software that is now on the forefront of robotic innovation. In fact, DARPA, the competition sponsor asked the IHMC team to allow open access to its software for the duration of the competition.
“I am part of the team that is heading up that open source initiative, which is making our software available to the community,” Stephen said. “This summer most of our work will be focusing on the open source initiative trying to release even more of our software.”
Stephen explained that the DARPA competition was multi-faceted, as some teams that entered created their own robots, while others focused on improving software.
“We only worked on software for the robot,” Stephen said of his IHMC team. “The actual physical robot was built by another company. All the teams that were in the competition for software used the same robot called Atlas.”
Thinking back on his days in Destin, Stephen said he had no idea of his interest in robotics as a teen.
“I don’t think we had that sort of thing in the area when I was a kid,” he said. “I was always into computers and stuff, but even when I went to college at UWF I didn’t get into robotics there either. It was not until I was looking for an internship, and found that IHMC had an internship available, and that’s when I really got into it.”
Now, however it’s a different story as Stephen said robotic interest has grown over the past few years.
“There is definitely a lot more now than there used to be,” he said. “The two big robotics competitions for middle and high school are First Robotics and Best Robotics. There are tons of resources in Okaloosa County now.”
As for his career, Stephen said he will continue working for IHMC and use this success in competition to help make more software available to the public.
“Obviously we are all really excited, second place is just awesome,” he said of the win. “We were really excited even just to be at the competition, let alone winning second place. It was fun for us, it was really more that this competition gave us the opportunity to do this one thing that we were looking to do for sometime now; we were looking for a way to be able to provide our software to the community and this was our opportunity.”
To see Running Man in action visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=25&v=RxubYsB8_Tg