The final of the three-year Subterranean Challenge robotics competition funded by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Department of Defense) took place in the USA from the 21st to 24th September 2021. An international team with representatives from Switzerland and with the participation of armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T) won the competition.
Complex underground settings present significant challenges for military and civilian first responders. The hazards vary drastically across domains that can degrade or change over time and are often too high-risk for personnel to enter. The DARPA Subterranean or “SubT” Challenge seeks novel approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments during time-sensitive combat operations or disaster response scenarios.
The robotics competition started in 2019 and reached its climax at the final in September 2021. The task set by the challenge was to explore the surrounding area as fast as possible with any number of robots and precisely locate items such as fire extinguishers, first aid equipment and mannequins (to simulate human survivors).
Small aircraft and ground vehicles were used to tackle the tasks. In addition to more conventional wheeled and tracked vehicles, four-legged walking robots also played a key role. Four Swiss ANYmal walking robots were deployed in the competition – one of them from the SDRC DDPS.
The winning team, called CERBERUS (CollaborativE walking & flying RoBots for autonomous ExploRation in Underground Settings), competed successfully against seven international teams from the robotics elite in the final in the USA. The team consisted of robotics researchers from Switzerland (ETH Zurich, Flyability SA), the USA, UK and Norway. CERBERUS deployed a diverse set of robots with the prime systems being four ANYmal C legged systems.
In the Prize Round of the Final Event, the team won the competition and scored 23 points by correctly detecting and localizing 23 of 40 of the artefacts DARPA had placed inside the environment. The second team, “CSIRO Data61” also scored 23 points but reported the last artefact with a slight further delay to DARPA thus the tiebreaker was in favour of Team CERBERUS. The third team, “MARBLE” scored 18 points.
In order to prepare for the DARPA Challenge, the Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre of the DDPS (SDRC DDPS) from armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T) provided above-ground and underground facilities together with the Engineering/Rescue/ABC training unit of the Swiss Armed Forces. CERBERUS were able to test various different robots under realistic conditions in the facilities.
You can find more information about the Subterranean robotics Challenge funded by DARPA and its winner, CERBERUS on the competition’s website.
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