Robots autonomously navigate underground in DARPA challenge

The Subterranean Challenge, or SubT, is testing this kind of cutting-edge technology. Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the contest concluded its second circuit on Wednesday, Feb. 27. Taking first in the competition was CoSTAR, a 12-robot, 60-person team led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (there were also winners declared for a separate, virtual competition).

SubT is divided into four circuits spread over three years. With each, teams program their robots to navigate a complex underground course. The first contest, held last August, took place in a mine. For the most recent, called the Urban Circuit, teams raced against one another in an unfinished power plant in Elma, Washington.

Each team’s robots searched for a set of 20 predetermined objects, earning a point for each find. For the Urban Circuit, CoSTAR earned 16 points; the No. 2 team, with 11 points, was Explorer, led by Carnegie Mellon University.