This past spring, two engineers huddled behind computer monitors as they fine-tuned a robotic ape. The 443-pound simian-inspired machine, called Chimp, would soon be competing in the Pentagon-funded DARPA Robotics Challenge. The competition to build disaster-response robots, which had started three years before, was nearing its final showdown. And Carnegie Mellon University’s Chimp was considered a front-runner for the top prize of $2 million. But as Chimp went through its paces, the rest of the robots in the university’s cavernous National Robotics Engineering Center sat unattended. The center was typically a flurry of activity, with engineers hunched over terminals tethered to all manner of autonomous machines, including mowers, harvesters, excavators, and combat vehicles. Now, in the middle of a weekday, the lab—part of the biggest robotics program in the country—seemed abandoned. It looked more like a museum closed for renovations.