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Lockheed Martin's Disaster Robot Gets the Go-Ahead From DARPA

By Katie Spence - Dec 28, 2013 at 10:00AM

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Humanoid first-responders are coming, and for Lockheed, that could spell profits.

Atlas Robot. Photo: DARPA via Wikimedia Commons.

If you're a human, you're a first-responder, or you just like robots, you might want to take note, because Lockheed Martin's (LMT -1.51%) humanoid first-responder just made it to the next stage in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's, or DARPA, Robotics Challenge.

They're coming ...
At 6-foot-2 and 330 pounds, the Atlas robot, built by Google's (GOOGL -3.93%) newly acquired Boston Dynamics, is one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built. It's also the platform for DARPA's ongoing Robotics Challenge. The goal of this challenge is to have a team build algorithms and software that allow the Atlas robot to respond to disasters. 

Atlas during testing. Photo: DARPA via Wikimedia Commons.

The final stage of this competition isn't until December 2014. But at that time, the remaining teams have to demonstrate that their robot is capable of completing eight tasks related to a disaster scenario. They include shattering a concrete wall using a power tool, climbing a wobbly ladder, driving a utility vehicle, crossing a debris-littered field, replacing damaged or dated industrial equipment, and isolating and closing a valve in a leaking pipe.

More importantly, on Dec. 23, Lockheed released a statement saying that its team is moving on to the next stage of the competition. And while the final prize is only worth $2 million, the experience Lockheed is getting from this competition could prove to be much more lucrative.  

Rise of the robots
Robots are playing an ever-increasing role in everyday life. For example, besides DARPA's Robotics Challenge, defense heavyweights such as Boeing (BA -4.95%) and Northrop Grumman make robots that are useful to the military, and companies such as Hansen Medical (HNSN) and Intuitive Surgical (ISRG -4.37%) make medical-assisting robots that aid in complex surgeries. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Further, the reason companies are placing such a premium on developing robotics technology is increasing demand. According to the International Federation of Robotics' study titled "World Robotics 2013-Industrial Robots":

In 2013 global robot sales will increase by about 2% to 162,000 units. The IFR Statistical Department expects that between 2014 and 2016 worldwide robot sales will increase by about 6% on average per year. In 2016, the annual supply of industrial robots will reach more than 190,000 units.  

What all this leads to is profit. As robots become more commonplace, companies that have a particular expertise in that technology stand to benefit.

What to watch
If Lockheed is successful in building a humanoid first-responder, that'll be a significant step forward in robotics. Moreover, as Bill Borgia, Lockheed's Advanced Technology Laboratories director, said: "The DARPA Robotics Challenge presented an exciting competition for our team. It helped us further our expertise in developing robotic autonomy. We'll continue to move that technology forward both in this challenge and our other efforts." Consequently, for long-term Lockheed investors, this is potentially good news, as it could become a lucrative source of revenue for the company.


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