A few years ago, we first heard about the DARPA Underground Challenge, a competition in which teams use robots to explore underground environments. An international organization called Team CEREBUS was recently awarded the top prize, grossing US$2 million.
DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – is part of the US Department of Defense and has previously hosted other competitions designed to inspire technological innovation.
In the Underground Challenge, robotic systems developed by teams from around the world must navigate three types of underground “fields” – Tunnel Systems as found in mines; Urban underground environments like subway tunnels; and the Natural Cave Network.
All three pose unique challenges and have been the subject of separate sub-competitions that have taken place over the past three years. The whole thing came to a head last week, with The Final Event combining elements of all three domains. It was held at the Mega Cavern complex, a former coal mine located in Louisville, Kentucky. That said, the Cave Network segment should be virtual-only (in other words, computer-simulated), due to constraints related to the pandemic.
In fact, nine of the teams have taken the entire Underground Challenge in a virtual-only format – they’re competing for a smaller $750,000 top prize. Eight other teams were present at the cave complex, with CEREBUS declared the overall winner.
Its name is an acronym for the Walking and Flying CollaborativE RoBots for Autonomous Discovery in Underground Installations, the team includes personnel from the University of Nevada Reno, ETH Zurich, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) ), University of California – Berkeley, University of Oxford, drone manufacturer Flyability, and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
CEREBUS won the competition by successfully locating 23 out of 40 artifacts that were placed in different domains. And while the team used a collaborative combination of general purpose drones and ground-based robots, most of the work was done by four ANYmal C quadrupedal robots, produced by ETH Zurich spin-off ANYbotics . Among other things, the ANYmal C’s quadrupedal gait allows it to navigate uneven terrain, maintain stability on impact and even climb and descend stairs.
NTNU’s Dr Kostas Alexis, head of the CEREBUS team, said: “Our team came up with the idea early on for a combination of legged and flying robots.” “We remain focused on this core vision of ours and also bring fully developed hardware to both the outgoing and the airframe. This is both our advantage and our limitation. us when we [have spent] a lot of time in its development. “
You can see one of the ANYmal C robots participating in the Final Event, in the video below.
ANYmal at the last run of DARPA SubT
Source: DARPA, Flyability, NTNU, CEREBUS