If you are new to the field of telepresence robotics, and only familiar with telepresence robots, you may not have seen the work that is carried out at the RoMeLa (Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory) lab/ And if you haven't seen this work, well, you’re missing out. Dr. Dennis Hong runs this lab out of Virginia Tech and back in 2010 it was the first lab in the US to build a full-sized, completely autonomous, humanoid robot.  They named it CHARLI, (Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence). Why did they not just capitalize the final "E" in the final word to complete the name? I suppose they didn't want to overstep the bounds of artistic license. But we digress (and by "we" I mean "I")... Built with a budget of $20,000, CHARLI represents a landmark in US robotics. Initially built in 2010 to compete in the annual RoboCup competition, CHARLI, he was able to take 3rd place in his rookie year. Then building on the knowledge of the first generation, he returned to compete in 2011 and 2012, taking 1st place for the adult league in both years. Check out what CHARLI has been up to recently: Though there are several species of robots as he and his lab have produced the most promising robot to tackle practical applications is SAFFiR (Shipboard Autonomous Fire-Fighting Robot). Working with the Office of Naval Research, the RoMeLa lab has built a sea-worthy firefighting robot. Essentially a beefier version of CHARLI, SAFFiR will have the added capability of throwing PEAT (Propelled Extinguishing Agent Technology) grenades, along with the ability to traverse obstacles like ladders and plenty of knee knockers, common aboard Navy ships. It’s a very ambitious goal with real world testing scheduled for September 2013. If the challenge of SAFFiR isn’t enough, Dr. Hong is also taking part in the DARPA Robotics Challenge and designing a new robot called THOR (Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot). The DARPA Grand Robotics Challenge is one of the most challenges contests to date, requiring a robot to drive a vehicle, smash through a wall (with or without tools), operate hand tools and likely repair a valve system. Nobody is quite sure how all this will be done, but the $1 Million dollar purse will be sure to get the creative juices flowing for all the competitors. DARPA had some success with a previous grand challenge involving autonomous vehicles originally held in 2001. The first year of competition, few vehicles made it past the starting line and nobody finished. However by year two, several teams completed the race pushing the boundaries of human ingenuity. What does the future hold for the Robotics Grand Challenge, we’ll have to wait until December 2013 to find out, but you can be sure the Dr. Hong and his team will produce a worthy competitor.

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