The challenge

Mapping subsurface networks and unpredictable conditions

Complex underground settings present significant challenges for military and civilian first responders. Hazards vary drastically across domains, often degrading or changing over time, and are often too high-risk for personnel to enter.

To help resolve this challenge, 11 teams from around the world were invited to propose novel methods for tackling these time-critical scenarios, including Data61. Teams must develop and demonstrate physical systems that can function in three circuit events on physical, representative subterranean courses, and focus on advancing and evaluating novel physical solutions in realistic field environments.

The DARPA Subterranean Challenge explores innovative approaches and new technologies to rapidly map, navigate, and search complex underground environments.  ©Image courtesy of DARPA

Our response

Developing an autonomous robot team

With US$4.5 million granted to each participating team, the Data61 team paired ultra-light legged robots with Hovermap drone autonomy technology, which can operate in areas where GPS is inaccessible, to create a robot entourage that could rapidly explore and generate 3D maps of the tunnel, urban and cave underground environments through LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanners, potentially providing unprecedented situational awareness in time-critical scenarios such as disaster response.

The results

Fifth place in the Tunnel Circuit challenge

Data61 successfully completed the Tunnel Circuit in August 2019, finishing in 5th place. The team is now beginning preparations for the next stage of the challenge, the Urban Circuit, scheduled for February 2020. Following this, the Cave Circuit will take place in August 2020, followed by the Final Event in August 2021, which will offer courses that incorporate diverse challenges from all three previous environments.

The technology developed for the challenge will be able to assist human first responders in understanding and exploring hazardous underground environments, and also has applications across a range of industries, including mining, transport, building and construction and agriculture.

For example, the Hovermap technology used in the 2018 challenge enabled the world's first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

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