Next-generation robots from NASA’s Johnson Space Center and a Webster science lab are among 17 machines competing in Miami, Fla.

The competition is sponsored by DARPA, the research branch of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The robotics challenge, conceived after the nuclear plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, is intended to encourage the production of robots that can do “tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments,” according to its website.

Challenges include removing debris, climbing ladders and successfully navigating a cluttered debris field. The toughest task calls for human-operated robots to safely drive a utility vehicle.

Valkyrie, the 6-foot 2-inch humanoid robot developed by a team from Johnson Space Center, is designed for dexterity and mobility.

The glowing blue “NASA” light on its chest gives the so-called “superhero” machine a look that closely resembles Marvel’s Iron Man character.

TRACLabs, the Webster-based robotics lab, created its own superhero robot with Hercules, which is also designed to respond to disaster situations.

Other teams in the competition include robotic developers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Japan’s SCHAFT Inc.

The competition kicks off today and runs through Friday.

Winners will go on to compete for $2 million in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals in 2014.

Videos from the competition can be viewed at here.

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