NASA robots compete underground in DARPA challenge

Xinhua News Agency | Aug 15, 2019 at 8:58 PM

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Robots from all over the world are competing in the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Subterranean Challenge Systems Competition, which opened on Thursday, in mining tunnels under Pittsburgh.

A team of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) participated in the competition, which features wheeled rovers, drones and climbing robots that can rise on pinball-flipper-shaped treads to scale obstacles, according to a release of the JPL.

Held by the DARPA, the competition is intended to develop technology for first responders and the military to map, navigate and search underground.

Technology developed for the competition will also lay the foundation for future NASA missions to caves and lava tubes on other planets, according to the JPL.

"By investing in this competition, we are investing in our future," said Leon Alkalai, manager of the JPL Office of Strategic Planning. "There's no doubt that the next grand challenge for JPL and for NASA is to do more subsurface exploration."

JPL has partnered with Caltech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and KAIST (formerly the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) to form the Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robots Systems team (CoSTAR).

CoSTAR is one of 11 teams that compete in formerly operational mines managed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Mining Program.

Because of the complexity of the terrain in the mining tunnels, the 60-member CoSTAR team has chosen to use several specialized robots instead of one, according to the JPL.

The fleet worked together to map the underground passages, navigate using artificial intelligence and locate objects like cellphones or heated mannequins hidden within the course, said the JPL.

Teams competing in that final event have the opportunity to win up to two million U.S. dollars in funding, according to the DARPA.