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Metal Rebel Tests Its Mettle

UNLV’s robotics team goes up against the likes of MIT, NASA, and Lockheed Martin in international competition this week. The humanoid robot, dubbed "Metal Rebel," must navigate a disaster simulation course.
Campus News  |  Jun 2, 2015  |  By Megan Downs

UNLV is among 25 of the world's best robotics teams competing in the 2015 U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Challenge Finals, an elite competition of robots and their human supervisors, June 5-6 at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.

With $3.5 million cash prize on the line, teams from academia, industry, and the private sector will test their robots with the goal of deployment as first responders in a disaster zone such as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor incident.

UNLV's Metal Rebel -- a 5-foot-5-inch, 175-pound humanoid robot - will test its mettle against the likes of MIT, NASA and Lockheed Martin in a simulated one-hour course. With little or no human intervention, Metal Rebel will need to drive a vehicle, climb stairs, traverse debris-filled terrain, turn valves, and use power tools.

UNLV's student/faculty team is led by Paul Oh, Lincy Professor of Unmanned Aerial Systems and a renowned expert in robotics and autonomous systems. Oh is a former program director for robotics at the National Science Foundation and is helping UNLV and Nevada become a national leader in the autonomous systems industry. Joining UNLV on the team are students and one professor from Kookmin University in Seoul, Korea, as well as professionals from robotics company Praxis Aerospace.

Inventing the Future of Robotic Driving

Driving is arguably the most challenging of the competition's many tasks, but Oh believes UNLV can emerge as a leader in this area. "We want to show DARPA and the robotics community that driving is possible," Oh said. "It's also the most visual. We want the audience to see the robot drive as this inspires wonder."

Some experts have argued that with the increased popularity of driverless cars, there won't be a need for driving robots. Oh believes his team, through its work with Metal Rebel, will carve out a niche for worldwide research on robots capable of driving vehicles.

"There are specialty vehicles that need training to drive, and we could create the technology so that a robot can upload computer program that would teach it how to drive the vehicle," Oh said. "In the case where a driver is sick or impaired, then the robot can take over the controls."

This application could be used in the trucking industry, on a spaceship, an aircraft, or even an aquatic vehicle.

Watch UNLV's Metal Rebel Compete

Teams will compete both Friday and Saturday, and the competition will stream live on the DARPA Robotics Challenge website. The competition schedule will be finalized just before the event, so the team's performance times will be posted Thursday evening. Spectators are invited to attend and the event is free and open to the public.

For more details, visit the Team UNLV's website. Follow the latest news and live updates from Pomona on Facebook and Twitter @UNLVEngineering.