Our friends at DARPA are at it again, amazing us with their nearly science-fictional technology and challenges. In this case, the Subterranean Challenge.
DARPA encourages participation from multidisciplinary teams from around the world to address the autonomy, perception, networking and mobility technologies necessary to map subsurface networks in unpredictable conditions. To attract a broader range of participants, the SubT Challenge includes both a physical Systems competition, as well as a software-only Virtual competition.
All of the teams shared a warehouse-sized space that was set up as a staging area for the competition. That gave them a chance to trade tips and tools, and gawk at the robotic menagerie. Team CoSTAR, which included roboticists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and MIT, brought along a couple of four-legged SpotMini robo-dogs from Boston Dynamics. A team of students from Taiwanese schools, including the National Chiao Tung University, showed off a couple of makeshift blimps.
Over the course of the week, each team was given two sets of runs through two different mazes set up at Satsop. Every time an artifact was found, a team scored a point. The Singapore team ended up putting a single point on the board, while Team CoSTAR took the top score with 16 points.
Today, Chung handed out the awards to the winners. Team Explorer, which paired Carnegie Mellon University with Oregon State University, won second place behind CoSTAR with 11 points. A Czech-Canadian team, CTU-CRAS-NORLAB, took third place with 10 points. CSIRO Data61 came in fourth with nine points — including the point that was earned for finding that gas leak.
I can't help but think that the 2012 movie Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott, might have influenced the presenters - and suggested a quick way to win! The following scene shows the exploration of a vast alien artifact.