ATLAS, the latest humanoid robot developed by the Pentagon, is already in operation but much remains to be done in the quest to develop a machine that can respond to natural disasters in places where human beings cannot go.

Nine teams in different parts of the country are competing to develop the software that will allow ATLAS, which was previously designed by Boston Dynamics, to carry out activities almost autonomously, supervised by humans only remotely.

ATLAS is one of the most advanced humanoid robots in existence and was designed to allow its motor capabilities to be exploited to the utmost, but the software to accomplish that still needs to be developed and so the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has launched this contest, the results of which will be made public in early 2014.

The developer of the winning software will receive $2 million.

That software, and the actions of a human operator via a control unit, will guide the collection of sensors, specialized tools and extremities that make up the robot, which will thus be converted into a kind of "metal fireman."

ATLAS stands 188 centimeters (6 feet 2 inches) high, weighs 150 kilos (330 pounds) and is able to make a series of natural movements, and it is equipped with an on-board computer to allow remote controlling of the unit in real time, a hydraulic pump and internal thermal management, as well as two arms and two legs and 28 types of hydraulically actuated joints.

Its head, which was created by Carnegie Robotics, has sound sensors and its hands were designed by the firms iRobot and Sandia National Labs. EFE