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Google Standing Down in DARPA Robotics Challenge

The finals will be held in California next summer, with more teams and harder tasks than previously planned.

Courtesy: DARPA

Schaft, an impressively dextrous little robot that earned the highest score in the DARPA Robotics Challenge trials in December, has left the competition after all.

Google acquired the team at the end of last year and reports emerged soon after that they’d withdraw from the $2 million competition, as first published on In March, DARPA shot down those concerns, announcing that the robot was sticking to the program, but switching into the self-funded track.

But in a call with reporters on Thursday, DARPA’s Gill Pratt said the team had officially elected to withdraw to “focus on their commercial product.”

That news came amid a general update on the Department of Defense robotics competition, which will now occur later, include more teams and involve more challenging tasks than previously planned.

The goal of the competition is to accelerate the development of robots that can aid in the aftermath of disasters, such as the Fukushima partial nuclear meltdown in 2011 or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It follows similar DARPA efforts to ignite investment and interest in other areas of robotics, notably the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous cars.

The finals are now scheduled for June 5 and 6, 2015, at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., about six months later than originally announced.

DARPA has pushed the event back and provided additional funding in part because it is increasing the complexity of the challenges the robots will face in the finals, largely because the teams did better than expected during the trials.

“We think it will require quite a bit of innovation from the teams,” Pratt said. “In order to let them get there, we’re going to provide more time and funding.”

It appears Google will maintain some connection to the challenge. Another company it acquired, Boston Dynamics, developed the Atlas robot that several teams are using.

But Schaft’s exit has freed up a slot and resources that will allow several other teams to compete. The full list of 11 finalists now include:

1) IHMC Robotics (Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, Pensacola, Florida)
2) Tartan Rescue (Carnegie Mellon University, National Robotics Engineering Center,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
3) Team MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts)
4) RoboSimian (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California)
5) Team TRACLabs (TRACLabs, Inc., Webster, Texas)
6) Team WPI-CMU (formerly Team WRECS, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester,
7) Team Trooper (Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories, Cherry Hill, New
8) Team ViGiR (TORC Robotics, Blacksburg, Virginia; TU Darmstadt, Germany; Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia; Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR)
9) Team THOR (University of California, Los Angeles, California)
10) Team Valor (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia)
11) Team KAIST (Daejeon Metro City, Republic of Korea)

DARPA has also allowed a handful of new international teams to join, given the growing global interest in improved disaster response. It said additional details on competitors from the European Union, Japan and Korea will be revealed in the near future.

Update: This story has been updated with new information from DARPA on the team affiliations and to correct the name of Boston Dynamics.

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