Whether robots are exploring caves on other planets or disaster areas here on Earth, autonomy enables them to navigate extreme environments without human guidance or access to GPS.
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.
Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots (CoSTAR) is developing robots that can autonomously explore caves, pits, tunnels and other subsurface terrain. Watch the team and their squad of robots prepare for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit during a practice run at Elma High School in Elma, Washington, in the days leading up to the competition.
“The goal is to develop software for our robots that lets them decide how to proceed as they face new surprises,” said CoSTAR’s team lead Ali Agha of JPL. “These robots are highly autonomous and for the most part make decisions without human intervention.”
CoSTAR, which stands for Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots, brought machines that can roll, walk or fly, depending on what they encounter.
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