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Dress Rehearsal

There was a bit of that golf game hush among the 100 or so reporters and DRC staff in the Fairplex Grandstands looking down upon the four finals courses as robot teams undertook their scheduled practice runs. Now and again, a burst of applause and cheers would erupt, like it does on the links when a golfer smacks a well-aimed drive or sinks a tough putt. Sometimes a sad, collective "aaaw" would punctuate the silence, the way it does when a promising putt curves just a hair and bypasses the cup.

Here at the DRC, those cheerable moments occurred when, for example, a robot managed to get itself out of the Polaris electric vehicle it had just driven to a simulated industrial accident scene, or opened the stage-right door leading into the rubble-strewn core of that setting, or picked up a cutting tool and-if things went really well-successfully carved a portal through a panel. The most frequent "aaaw" moment was when a robot would drop a tool, but there also was a fullblown fall in the afternoon that elicited deep groans of commiseration. This is not to leave out a whole lot of no-go rehearsal time in which this or that team spent most of its allotted hour just trying to get its robot into the Polaris vehicle or its legs to work.

There were some astonishing moments too. During its late morning run, Team KAIST's DRC-Hubo got out of its Polaris, gracefully bent down onto its knees, and assumed what appeared to be a respectful bow before a huddle of blue-vested Team KAIST members. It was an emotional moment of human-machine interaction, one that suggested the present chasm between human- and robot-kind stands at least a chance of being bridged, and that a future of seamless biomechanical partnership may indeed be possible.