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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Is Google the civilian DARPA?

• Michael Belfiore
I’ve just filed an extended essay on the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials for the new online magazine Aeon. Check out the mag if you haven’t seen it yet: It runs a feature-length essay by an established writer daily, on a wide range of topics. It’s good stuff. My piece will run in the next few weeks.

The DRC Trials were the DARPA-sponsored competition for semi-autonomous humanoid robots, held outside of Miami in December.

The bots were babies this year, for the most part needing lots of human help just to get from place to place. But DARPA Deputy Director Steven Walker told me at the event that he fully expects the machines to be zipping around like the Boston Dyanmics LS3 bot pictured here, at next year’s DRC Finals.

The plot thickens for the DRC Finals, coming up in a year or so. Google has bought not only the winning DRC Trials team, SCHAFT, but also Boston Dynamics itself, which built half of the bots in the competition (multiple copies of a machine called Atlas).

Let’s see…Google’s driverless car project originated in a DARPA project; the company has bought the top robots of the DRC; they hired on former DARPA director Regina Dungan in 2012; and they’re working to establish a beach head in space (where DARPA got its start) through the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Has Google become the civilian DARPA? And if so, what are the implications?


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