TRACLabs Advances to Second Round in DARPA Robotics Challenge, Enters Partnership with FuelFX to Develop a Robot Learning App

HOUSTON — (BUSINESS WIRE) — September 10, 2013TRACLabs, a Houston-based company with over 20 years’ experience in the field of robotics and automation, has advanced to the second round of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC). As one of 6 teams to advance out of the international competitions’ 26 challengers, TRACLabs has been awarded funding and the use of a $2 million Atlas humanoid robot from DARPA to compete in the next phase of the competition.

The Atlas robot arrived on Tuesday, August 6, and was uncrated at TRACLabs’ facility on Wednesday. “We’re eager to kick-start our new research with the Atlas robot,” said President and CEO of TRACLabs Dr. David Kortenkamp, “which we are confident will lead us to victory in the next phase of competition—the DRC Trials in December 2013.” A live webcam of the lab facility where the robot is to be programmed and tested will soon be available on the TRACLabs website.

The current DARPA competition focuses on controlling a remote, simulated humanoid robot in disaster-response scenarios. The goal of the competition is to generate and develop research that will lead to robotics that can perform hazardous activities, in cooperation with human counterparts, in order to save lives, reduce casualties, and avoid further destruction. Prior DARPA competitions included the DARPA Grand Challenge to develop driverless vehicles, research from which helped in the Google driverless car project.

TRACLabs is one of eighteen teams to receive a DARPA grant to participate in the DRC challenge. In the initial stage, teams have been evaluated based on task completion and effective operator control of the robots for each of three tasks.

Each task addressed robot perception, manipulation and locomotion. More specifically: entering, driving and exiting a utility vehicle; walking across muddy, uneven and rubble-strewn terrain; and attaching a hose connector to a spigot, then turning a nearby valve. Teams performed each task five times using a simulated robot provided by DARPA. Scores were evaluated based on tasks completion time and subtasks, and number of bits uploaded to the robot from the operator control stations.

In the next phase of DRC Trials, seven teams using Atlas robots designed by Boston Dynamics will compete against a variety of custom-built robots developed by other teams in simulated real-world disaster-response scenarios. “ TRACLabs has been developing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for 20 years,” said Kortenkamp. “Our multi-layered approach to AI is uniquely suited to this challenge, and to the ultimate goal of developing highly effective, advanced robots for roles specific to disaster response and other hazardous activities.”

FuelFX, a Houston-based interactive multimedia and software development firm, is partnering with TRACLabs to build an augmented reality (AR) simulation app of the robot. The app will provide hands-on science learning opportunities for students and enthusiasts, allowing the user to operate a life-sized version of the Atlas robot appearing in their living room or classroom. The robot’s functionality will have a simplified programmable interface, mimicking the real robot, so that anyone can be a virtual roboticist and explore how robots are programmed.

TRACLabs will soon host a competition for students in which they can record short robot programs (using the AR simulation app) and submit them for evaluation to the TRACLabs team. “This app really helps people explore how robots work from a software perspective,” says Oliver Diaz, CEO of FuelFX. “Kids can even send their virtual robot programs in to TRACLabs, who will try the coolest programs out on the real life Atlas to their specification and broadcast it on their live webcam feed.” For more information about the competition, please check the TRACLabs website and stay tuned.

TRACLabs, Inc. is a software and hardware development company based in Houston, Texas that has been pioneering the science of robotics and automation since 1986. TRACLabs is a contractor for NASA and the Department of Defense. TRACLabs also develops custom software solutions for the oil and gas industry. For more information, visit

FuelFX, LLC, is a 3D production design firm based in Houston, Texas, that provides cutting-edge, strategic, imaginative communication solutions to the energy industry and other technology-intensive business sectors. For more information and a comprehensive list of services, visit or follow the company on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


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