CSIRO team to compete in US robotics challenge

Hovermap lidar mapping and autonomy payload fitted to drone for underground mine mapping. Source: CSIRO

The technology arm of the CSIRO, Data61, will compete in the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean (SubT) Challenge, with the legged and airborne robot technology it has developed.

The SubT Challenge aims to explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments. Teams from around the world have been invited to propose methods to approach time-critical scenarios through unknown courses, mapping subsurface networks in conditions that are too hazardous for human first responders.

Data61’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group, is the only Australian entity competing in the challenge, and is one of seven teams to receive up to US$4.5 million in funding from DARPA across the three-year challenge.

“We’re honoured to be competing in DARPA’s SubT Challenge, drawing on decades of experience in developing robots, sensing and communications systems for challenging environments like underground mines, and caves,” Fred Pauling, Robotics and Autonomous Systems group leader at CSIRO’s Data61, said.

“We’re pairing our ultralight legged robots with our Hovermap GPS-denied drone autonomy technology, to create a robot team that can rapidly explore and map challenging underground environments, providing unprecedented situational awareness in time-critical scenarios such as disaster response.”

CSIRO Data61’s SubT Challenge team will create 3D maps of underground environments through LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanners mounted on legged robots as well as unmanned aerial vehicles which can fly in GPS-denied environments without a human controller.

Last year, the Hovermap technology enabled the world’s first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

Once developed, the robotics and network technology will be able to help human first responders in understanding and exploring hazardous underground environments. It is also expected to have applications across a range of industries including mining, transport, building and construction and agriculture.