Nine teams hailing from four continents gathered in Idaho Springs, Colorado, the week of April 5-11, 2019, to test autonomous air and ground systems for navigating the dark, dangerous, dirty, and unpredictable underground domain. The SubT Integration Exercise, known as STIX, took place at the Colorado School of Mines’ Edgar Experimental Mine. The event provided a shakeout opportunity for competitors in advance of the Tunnel Circuit in August, the first of three subdomains that teams will tackle in DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge.
The teams were divided into three groups. Each group had one day to experiment with their various systems during multiple runs in the mine, followed by a second day in which each team attempted a one-hour mock, scored run. Teams could earn points by accurately locating, identifying, and reporting artifacts placed within the tunnels. Artifacts included thermal manikins, backpacks, fire extinguishers, cell phones, and cordless drills – all inspired by objects an end user such as a warfighter or first responder might encounter.
The mine environment presented teams with low light, high dust, metal rails, and irregular terrain. The DARPA team added to the complexity with a theatrical smoke machine, which mimicked real smoke a warfighter or first responder could contend with in an emergency response scenario, for example.
“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.”
The competitors at STIX included a mix of DARPA-funded and self-funded teams:
CoStar: Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robots
CRETISE: Collaborative Robot Exploration and Teaming In Subterranean Environments
CSIRO Data 61
MARBLE: Multi-agent Autonomy with Radar-Based Localization for Exploration
PLUTO: Pennsylvania Laboratory for Underground Tunnel Operations
Following the Tunnel Circuit, teams will compete in the Urban Circuit, which will focus on underground urban environments such as mass transit and municipal infrastructure; and the Cave Circuit, which will focus on naturally occurring cave networks. Locations for the circuit events have not been announced.
Qualification is ongoing for the circuit events. Requirements can be found in the SubT Qualification Guide available on the Resources Page. Teams interested in joining either the virtual or systems tracks can still register and are encouraged to join the SubT Community Forum to exchange ideas, explore teaming opportunities, and receive updates on the Challenge.
For additional information on the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, please visit www.subtchallenge.com. Please email questions to SubTChallenge@darpa.mil.
Image Caption: DARPA Subterranean Challenge explores innovative approaches and new technologies to rapidly map, navigate, and search complex underground environments. Teams field-tested their technologies at Edgar Experimental Mine April 5-11, 2019. Click below for high-resolution image.
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