EATR - DARPA's Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot

The EATR - Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot is a special DARPA project to develop a robotic platform able to perform long missions while refueling itself by foraging.

The system obtains its energy by foraging – engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable.

In order to succeed, EATR must be able to 1) identify suitable biomass sources of energy, 2) spatially locate and manipulate the sources of energy (cut to size as needed), and 3) convert the biomass to electrical energy.

Don't mind that large robot in your front yard; it's a DARPA robot trying to feed itself having (1) identified grass as a suitable biomass for conversion. Hopefully, it will ignore your small children and pets (1), and will not try to cut them into pieces small enough to eat (2) and then subsequently convert them in to electricity (3).

18-Jul-2009 Update: Thankfully, the EATR robot is a mild-mannered consumer of small twigs, leaves and other brush. See EATR Robot is a Vegetarian for details. End update.

The EATR will have a robotic arm and end effector to manipulate materials.

The robotic arm and end effector will be attached to the robotic mobility platform, either directly or affixed to a platform towed behind the HMMWV. It will have sufficient degrees-of-freedom, extend sufficiently from the platform, and have a sufficient payload to reach and lift appropriate materials in its vicinity. The end effector will consist of a multi-fingered (e.g., three-fingered or two-thumb, one-finger) hand with sufficient degrees-of-freedom to grasp and operate a cutting tool (e.g., a circular saw) to demonstrate an ability to prepare biomass for ingestion, and to grasp and manipulate biomass for ingestion.

You may want to carry a baseball bat while out inspecting the back forty - use this to discourage EATR robots from trying to "manipulate" you or other things that you want to keep.

Autonomous intelligence will be provided by the 4D/RCS system already under development.

The 4D/RCS (three dimensions of space, one dimension of time, Real-time Control System) architecture, [will have] new software modules which we will create for the EATR™. The 4D/RCS has been under development by the Intelligent Systems Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, for more than three decades with an investment exceeding $125 million. The NIST 4D/RCS has been demonstrated successfully in various autonomous intelligent vehicles, and a variation of the 4D/RCS serves as the Autonomous Navigation System (ANS) mandated for all robotic vehicles in the Army’s Future Combat System (an additional investment of $250 million). NIST is providing assistance in transferring the 4D/RCS technology for the EATR™.

Although having to smack down the occasional prototype EATR in your front yard will be inconvenient, just wait until they get some size, or decide to swarm together. Then, you wind up with something like Philip Reve's traction city, from his 2003 book Mortal Engines. See the illustration of the Andrew Maynard Architects recycling concept CV08 suburb-eating robot.


(CV08 suburb-eating robot)

Sooner or later, these robots will discover that some of the best energy resources are to be found at the top of the food chain. Contractors seeking to win EATR project funding may want to see my previous article Flesh-Eating Robot Research Languishing.

From EATR: ENERGETICALLY AUTONOMOUS TACTICAL ROBOT DARPA Contract W31P4Q-08-C-0292 (pdf) via Biomass Mag.

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