Team THOR is a union of two robotics laboratories: the Robots and Mechanisms Lab (RoMeLa) at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab (GRASP) at the University of Pennsylvania. The team consists of roughly 35 official members composed of graduate students, undergraduate students, and post docs under the guidance of Professor Dennis Hong at UCLA and Professor Daniel Lee at UPenn. RoMeLa and GRASP have collaborated successfully on numerous projects and have a history of success. RoMeLa and GRASP have participated together in RoboCup, where they have been the world champions four years in a row. Sponsored by NSF, RoMeLa and GRASP also collaborated in the development of DARwIn-OP, a successful and very popular miniature humanoid robot for research and education. They also collaborated to develop the Shipboard Autonomous Fire Fighting Robot (SAFFiR), which was sponsored by ONR. Both labs are not new to such large scale robotics competitions. RoMeLa won 3rd place at the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge and GRASP placing 5th. The key to Team THOR's success is how well the strengths of RoMeLa and GRASP complement each other. RoMeLa has plenty of experience developing robot platforms including humanoids, focusing on mechanical design, actuation, and bipedal locomotion. GRASP's experience lies in software, especially in perception and autonomy. Both of these strengths are vital to the success of the development of THOR-RD.
Team THOR originally developed two humanoid robots with very different approaches for the 2013 DRC Trials; THOR (Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot), a robot with series elastic actuators using impedance control, and THOR-OP (Open Platform), a smaller robot with modular actuators using position control. THOR-OP was the platform of choice for Team THOR at the 2013 Trials. As the team leader, Dr. Dennis Hong moved from Virginia Tech to UCLA, the team and robots have split for the 2015 DRC Finals. THOR remains at Virginia Tech, and THOR-OP moved to UCLA. Together with UPenn and ROBOTIS, THOR-OP has now evolved into a new robot called THOR-RD (Tactical Hazardous Operation Robot Rapid Deployment.) The key focus and inspiration of THOR-RD was to make it easy to transport, deploy, operate, and maintain so people can actually "use it." To fulfill these requirements THOR-RD was developed with interchangeable modular actuators and simple mechanical structures. In addition, based on our decade of experience with humanoid robots for demonstrations, events, and competitions THOR-RD is easy to operate and control with a user friendly human-machine interface. Beyond the DRC, THOR-RD will continue to serve as a general research platform to further push research for practical, state of the art humanoid robotics.
Though there have been numerous efforts to develop humanoid robots, their use has been very limited outside the laboratories in which they were developed; their weight and complexity make them difficult to deploy and operate. To promote and accelerate the development of field ready humanoid robotic platforms, we believe that it is critical to maximize robot run times in order to provide adequate feedback to researchers. For this to happen, it is important to have a lightweight platform that is easy to transport, handle, maintain, deploy and operate and should also be useful, upgradeable and expandable. With these goals in mind we developed a new platform called THOR-RD which evolved from the THOR-OP platform. From the 2013 DRC Trials, we realized THOR-OP was too fragile and certain joints too weak. Changes were made to THOR-RD to solve those issues by making the structure more robust and including a second motor in the knee joint. Despite these changes, THOR-RD weighs a mere 55 kg so it can still be carried by a single operator. Furthermore, the control software is intuitive and streamlined enough that it can be tele-operated through a smartphone. THOR-RD can safely fall and stand up by itself.