underground tunnel (adamziaja.com/Shutterstock.com)

DARPA wants to simulate underground environments for robot testing

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to be able to autonomously map and explore underground environments.

The agency plans to run a Subterranean or “SubT” Challenge to explore new ways to quickly map, navigate and search underground environments such as human-made tunnel systems, underground mass transit and municipal infrastructure and naturally occurring cave networks. Teams can propose novel methods for tackling time-critical scenarios in mapping underground networks under conditions that are too hazardous for human first responders.

Testing the submissions will be done in physical environments, but DARPA will also provide simulated environments to help competitors develop their technology, the agency explained in a sole source notice.

This SubT Virtual Testbed, to be developed by Open Robotics, will be an open-source simulation platform meant to mirror the physical, real-world test environment as closely as possible. It will be built with the Robot Operating System, a set of software libraries and tools for building robot applications, and Gazebo, a platform that allows developers to accurately simulate robots in complex indoor and outdoor environments. The testbed will run on CloudSim, which provides robot simulation as a web application.

The Gazebo robotics simulator was also used in NASA's Space Robotics Challenge to improve autonomy for and manipulation of the R5 Valkyrie robot.

Open Robotics will make the simulation software available on an open source basis. The final SubT challenge isn’t expected to take place until 2021.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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