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By Sci-Fi Standards, Newest Robots May Disappoint

NY Times: HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The robot gently grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. But before it could shuffle through the frame, it lost its grip and the spring-loaded door slammed shut.

Team Schaft, an elite group of former Tokyo University roboticists whose company was recently acquired by Google, is one of the favorites to win the Pentagon’s Darpa Robotics Challenge 2013 Trials. But in its first event on Friday, the team’s 4-foot-8, 210-pound Schaft HRP-2 robot was not perfect. The robot passed through just two of the three doors and as a result failed to get a valuable third point or a fourth bonus point.

With computer technology and robot development rapidly advancing, the Robotics Challenge is a coming-out party of sorts for a new generation of robots that are being designed to walk around in the human environment and collaborate with people on tasks. But the event is much more than a robot showcase; it is also an attempt by the federal government to push technology forward, with the goal of creating machines that can be used in place of humans to perform dangerous tasks.

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