DARPA Concludes First Stage of Autonomous Tech Subterranean Challenge

Jeff Brody

The Defense Advanced Research Agency held an underground mine mapping contest this month to demonstrate autonomous technologies. Participants from 11 nations used autonomous technologies to survey mines in Pittsburgh, Penn., under the Tunnel Circuit of DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge, the agency said Thursday.

During the challenge, the teams deployed 20 unmanned aircraft systems, 64 land robots and an autonomous blimp to survey and track artifacts across two mines in Pittsburgh from Aug. 15 to 22. The SubT Challenge’s next segment, known as the Urban Circuit will take place in February 2020, and the third segment, named Cave Circuit, will occur August 2020.

DARPA-funded teams and self-funded teams both participated, with only the latter eligible for prizes during circuit events. The contest’s final event, scheduled for 2021, will have prizes for all qualifying teams.

“Teams gathered valuable data at the Tunnel Circuit to help them improve systems and sensors for the Urban and Cave Circuits, but they should also prepare for a few new surprises,” said Timothy Chung, SubT Challenge program manager at DARPA. “The SubT Challenge could be compared to a triathlon,” he added. “DARPA is not looking just for the strongest swimmer, runner, or cyclist, but rather integrated solutions that can do all three.”

Those interested in participating in the Urban Circuit may apply for qualification through October.

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