The tunnel circuit challenge kicked off today to see which research team can design a robot best suited to navigate underground mines.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is hosting the challenge in a Pittsburgh research mine. Robotic research teams from around the world are competing in a series of contests. DARPA said total prize money is more than $5 million.
Eleven teams will attempt to remotely map, identify and report on a number of artifacts.
The tunnel circuit is the first of three circuits in which teams will test their systems. In February 2020 there will be an urban circuit, then a cave circuit a year from now. The final event incorporating challenges from all three phases will be held in August 2021.
Competitors advanced to the tunnel circuit phase after “shakeout” competition was held in the spring. Challenges at the shakeout phase involved identifying items underground, such as backpacks, fire extinguishers, cell phones, and cordless drills. The mine environment was simulated with contestants encountering low light, high dust, metal rails and irregular terrain.
“It was amazing to see the progression from day one into day two for each team as they explored the tunnels of the mine and began to understand just how complex and unknown these underground environments can be,” said Timothy Chung, program manager for the Subterranean Challenge in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “It’s not just about testing whether there’s enough light or if robots can drive a few meters. It’s about how all that has to come together in a difficult environment and the teams are experiencing the challenge of integration in addition to technology development.”
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