Darpa Goes Underground for Its Most Daring Robot Extravaganza Yet

WIRED | 9/28/2018 | Matt Simon
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Click For Photo: https://media.wired.com/photos/5bad7974a8af2931175560c6/191:100/pass/caves-688429096.jpg

On Thursday, Darpa gathered roboticists in the Louisville Mega Cavern, in Kentucky, and gave them a mission: Design robots to navigate a grueling subterranean course of tunnels and caves, some of the most unforgiving environments on Earth. They’re calling it the Subterranean Challenge, but you may as well call it the Death to All Robots Challenge.

This event, which will begin next year, is a fundamentally different Darpa beast than the Darpa beasts that came before it. First the advanced tech agency ran the Grand Challenge, a desert race between autonomous vehicles that helped jumpstart the self-driving car revolution. Then it oversaw the Robotics Challenge, in which humanoid robots tried to open doors and drive carts, but mostly fell on their faces. The technical challenges with both were monumental, but the environments were relatively tame. Going underground, the robots in the Subterranean Challenge will face a particular kind of ****.

Darpa - Competition - Circuits - Teams - Headaches

Darpa will split this new competition into three circuits, each presenting the teams with fresh headaches. There’s the tunnel environment, a mess of passageways. And a cave environment, with crags and slopes and tight squeezes. And a bunker-like environment, which will be the most “structured,” or predictable, environment the robots will encounter. Still, that means the bots will have to flourish in an area optimized for human dexterity, perhaps including climbing stairs.

Teams (including participants from Carnegie Mellon, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and Caltech) will tackle each circuit about six months apart, beginning with the tunnel circuit in August of next year. They’ll get multiple runs in each environment, and use their highest score. Then in August 2021, teams will gather to tackle the final event, a sort of mashup of the three different environments.

Test - Teams - Robots - Caves

The central test for these teams will be whether their robots will be flexible enough to bounce between caves...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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