DARPA Subterranean Challenge kicks off tomorrow

DARPA is hosting its DARPA Subterranean Challenge Systems Competition this week. The challenge runs August 15 to 22 and is being held in mining tunnels under Pittsburgh. Among the teams from around the world participating in the event will be a NASA JPL team that has wheeled rovers, drones, and climbing robots that can scale obstacles.

The goal of the contest is to create robots that can be used by first responders and the military to map, navigate, and search underground. That's not all the tech devised for this contest will be used for though. NASA says that the tech will also lay the foundation for future missions to caves and lava tubes on other planets.

JPL says that by investing in this competition, it is investing in our future. JPL is working with Caltech, MIT, and KAIST on the project and together they form the CoSTAR or Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robotics Systems team. The competition has 11 teams total that are competing in formerly operational mines managed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Mining Program.

The team is using several specialized robots in the test rather than one. The fleet of bots works together to map the tunnels and will navigate using AI and locate objects like cellphones or heated mannequins hidden around the course. The contest allows no humans to be in the tunnels.

The goal for the team is to map most of the objects to within about 16 feet of their location to win the Tunnel Circuit, which is the first stage. The next stage is the Urban Circuit, and that competition happens in February 2020. After that comes, the Cave Circuit in August 2020 and the Systems Final happens in August 2021. The teams can win up to $2 million in funding.