DARPA first announced its Subterranean Challenge in 2018. The goal of the competition was to “develop innovative technologies that would augment operations underground”—or, as IEEE Spectrum put it, “to get teams of robots doing useful stuff in challenging underground environments.”
The underground environments DARPA wanted to test in the competition included human-made ones, like subway systems, sewers, and mines, and natural ones, like caves and tunnels.
“Flyability is honored and proud to have been part of the CERBERUS team, winners of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge,” says Adrien Briod, Co-Founder and CTO at Flyability. “At Flyability we are committed to turning innovations into products that solve customer pains, with the primary goal of using robotics to keep people out of dangerous situations.”
Starting in 2019, DARPA hosted a Tunnel Event and an Urban Event to test the technology competitors were developing for the SubT Challenge and winnow the competition. (A Cave Event planned for 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic.)
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The final competition of the challenge took place in Louisville, KY last week at the Louisville Mega Cavern, a massive former limestone mine so big it houses a ropes course, mountain bike park, and tram-guided tours.
Finalists in the competition had to navigate environments that incorporated elements from all three previous events, including confined spaces built to simulate underground mines, metropolitan infrastructure, and cave systems. They were faced with visual degradation during operations, including smoke.
To win, robots from each team had to explore these environments and find objects of interest—called artifacts—that had been placed there by DARPA SubT Challenge organizers. Once found, the robots had to report the accurate location of the artifact. Each artifact was worth one point.
Team CERBERUS won by accurately finding and locating 23 artifacts out of the 40 total present. Second place winner Team CSIRO Data61 also scored 23 points but it reported the final artifact more slowly, giving the win to Team CERBERUS. Third place winner was Team MARBLE, with a score of 18.
“Our team coined early on the idea of legged and flying robot combination,” says Dr. Kostas Alexis, Director of the Autonomous Robots Lab at NTNU and Team CERBERUS’ Team Lead. “We have remained focused on this core vision of ours and also bring fully own-developed hardware for both legged and flying systems. This is both our advantage and—in a way—our limitation as we [have spent] a lot of time in its development.”
The DARPA SubT Challenge pushed the limits of autonomy and underground robotics technology. All of the teams that made it to the finals developed and demonstrated technology that has the potential to make a big impact on sectors that rely on underground operations, including mining, wastewater inspections, and search & rescue.
The primary robots that Team CERBERUS used in the Final Event were four ANYmal C systems.