DARPA Goes Underground
Remember the DARPA Grand Challenge?
It was an autonomous-vehicle challenge started by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) way back in the halcyon days of 2004. Engineers from some of the best colleges in the U.S. would strap all manner of sensors to a truck and see if it could guide itself through the deserts of Nevada
Since no team was able to complete the course in 2004, 2005’s winner was a heavily modified Volkswagen Touareg named “Stanley” built by Stanford University with help from Volkswagen.
Stanley’s victory helped guide the way for autonomous vehicles today.
Since then, DARPA has dabbled in all manner of autonomous tech. This year, it’s going underground with the Subterranean (SubT) Challenge.
Teams competing this year are trying to make a robot that can successfully navigate subterranean tunnels.
DARPA states their goal as:
The DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge aims to develop innovative technologies that would augment operations underground. The SubT Challenge will explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, search and exploit complex underground environments, including human-made tunnel systems, urban underground networks and natural cave networks.
Now, as with all cutting-edge tech, whatever DARPA learns from the challenge will go toward military tech first. But whatever gets soldiers out of harm’s way is good in my book.
Where the SubT Challenge really shines is in the future tools it can give first responders and engineers. Firefighters and EMS can put themselves in danger far less often to rescue someone or put out a fire. A robot can fit into all manner of difficult spots that a person simply can’t/won’t squeeze into.
Utility workers and engineers could use the tech to fix underground pipes and ducts without even going underground. Why get yourself hurt when a robot could just do it?
Autonomous underground robots don’t have to be constrained to Earth either. The tech explored with this challenge could be used to mine Mars or even asteroids. It has wide-ranging applications aside from strapping guns to it or fixing leaky pipes.
DARPA’s challenge is happening as I write.
And they have a history of making breakthrough tech a reality. DARPA’s worked on inventions like the internet, stealth aircraft, GPS and the cloud… just to name a few. So it’s worth paying attention to.
Development is moving at a rapid pace and I will definitely keep an eye on this space. Stay tuned.
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