Get set for the Robot Olympics

DARPA Subterranean challenge
A fully autonomous drone from Emesent with a hovermap system during a CSIRO training session for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge final event. Image: CSIRO

There’s a world leading robotics competition going down in the US this month, and a Brisbane-based team of robotics experts will be there (remotely!) to represent Australia.

Legends in this STEM space have spent the past three years pushing the boundaries of autonomous robotic technology to map, navigate and search environments as part of the Subterranean Challenge, run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Breakthroughs discovered through this challenge have even helped push real-world applications forward, like improving safety and efficiency in mining sectors, plus promising significant potential in agriculture and manufacturing.

With teams eliminated from the competition each year, only eight remain to battle it out in the grand final. This includes the Australian team, made up of pros from CSIRO, who will appear at the comp via telepresence.

Speaking about flexing their robotics skills on the world stage, CSIRO group leader Dr Navinda Kottege said they were thrilled to be one of the final eight teams to compete.

“In the world of robotics, these challenges are like our Olympics,” Dr Kottege said.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time any Australian team has made it to a DARPA Challenge final, and we’re very proud to showcase Australia’s capabilities in this area on the world stage.”

So what can we expect from a Robot Olympics? Well, six autonomous robots from CSIRO’s Data61 will need to locate and report back on items and environmental conditions throughout three underground courses built inside the Louisville Mega Cavern in Louisville, Kentucky.

The challenges are designed to simulate real-world scenarios and involve locating models representing lost or injured humans, backpacks, or phones, as well as variable conditions such as pockets of gas. Points are awarded for correct identification and location of items, mapping the terrain, and maintaining autonomy and communications throughout. So cool!

DARPA Subterranean challenge
A fully autonomous drone from Emesent with a hovermap system during a CSIRO training session for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge final event. Image: CSIRO

And what does the winner get? Besides the glory, they’ll receive a whopping $US2 million to conduct further research and development, with second place awarded $US1 million and third $US500,000.

If you want to check it out, the DARPA Subterranean Final Challenge will take place from September 21-23. You can watch it here.

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Louise Meers

Author: Louise Meers

Louise is the production editor for Careers with STEM. She has a journalism degree from the University of Technology, Sydney and has spent over a decade writing for youth. She is passionate about inspiring young people to achieve their biggest goals and build a better future.


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