NASA entered two custom-built robots in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC): Valkyrie and RoboSimian. While "Val" had the look of a superhero, at the end of the day, it was JPL's ape-like RoboSimian that scored high enough to make the finals.
Overall, RoboSimian placed fifth in the competition, but more than half of the top finishers were teams utilizing DARPA's own Atlas robot as their hardware. If you clear away these competitors from the finalists, RoboSimian makes up the third and final unique robot to make the finals, behind Carnegie Mellon's CHIMP and the all-around winner, SCHAFT.
What sets RoboSimian apart from the rest of the DRC playing field is its core design principle: lack of specialization. This is not your niche robot, capable of only one or two specific tasks. Instead, JPL built RoboSimian to be capable of completing almost any task in any environment. Each of its four limbs are equally capable of traversing terrain and accomplishing complex tasks. This universality of use was what helped RoboSimian traverse and clear debris fields, open doors, shut off valves and drive vehicles well enough to garner JPL a slot in the finals this coming December.
In the coming months, you can bet the folks at JPL will be refining and tweaking their contender in the hopes of snatching away SCHAFT's top place on the podium.