Australian team in robotic mapping global challenge

An Australian team has reached the grand final of a global challenge run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test autonomous robotic technology to map, navigate and search environments.

Known as the Subterranean challenge, teams have been eliminated from competition in previous years, leaving only eight to contest the 2021 grand final.

Though based in Australia for the competition, CSIRO’s Australian team members will appear at the event via telepresence.

US-based representatives and partners Emesent and Georgia Tech will be on the ground.

The 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.

The team’s tracked robots were purchased from Australian robotics company BIA5.

All robots are equipped with hardware designed and developed by CSIRO’s Data61, including integrated perception technology for highly-accurate mapping, localisation, object detection, multi-bot navigation, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi detection.

Dr Farid Kendoul, CTO of CSIRO spinout, Emesent worked closely with CSIRO to develop two autonomous drones that will explore, map and report back on the course.

Dr Kendoul said: “Having a fleet of driving, walking and flying robots that are achieving complex missions autonomously and collaboratively is a major technological milestone and an important step towards using autonomous systems for saving lives and helping people.”

The winner will receive $US2 million to conduct further research and development, with second place awarded $US1 million and third $US500,000.

CSIRO’s Data61 placed fourth in the previous challenge to secure their place in this grand final.

CSIRO group leader Dr Navinda Kottege said: “In the world of robotics, these challenges are like our Olympics.

“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.”

The DARPA Subterranean Final Challenge will take place from 21-23 September with more information here.

Picture: CSIRO/Katrina Lo Surdo/fully autonomous drone from Emesent with a Hovermap system

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