CBP agent in tunnel (DHS)

DARPA looks to robots for underground navigation

An old Colorado mine will host the next leg of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's competition to develop technology to find and map subterranean passages and infrastructure.

DARPA's SubT Integration Exercise, known as STIX, asks teams to quickly and remotely map, navigate and search underground environments such as human-made tunnel systems, naturally occurring cave networks and urban underground mass transit and municipal infrastructure.

Tunnel detection and mapping is becoming a critical capability for the military as well as the Department of Homeland Security. The Defense Department's efforts are aimed at developing tunnel detection and mapping capabilities to support in its mission in Afghanistan.

According to the Science & Technology Directorate at DHS, finding illicit tunnels and underground passages along the southern border is largely based on "random tips and laborious human intelligence" and not on detection technology. Civilian border agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, have harnessed other technologies developed in conflict zones by the DOD for border security operations.

Nine teams, armed with robots, sensors, tracking software and communications systems will descend into the Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs, Col., in April.

The event, the research agency said in a Jan. 22 statement, is part of the preparation for SubT's Circuits Stage Challenge set for later this year and next. The agency kicked off the challenge in late 2017 along parallel research tracks: the hardware-focused systems track and the software-focused virtual track.

The circuits divvy up testing in operational environments. The Tunnel Circuit is slated for this coming August, the Urban Circuit competition is scheduled for February 2020 and the Cave Circuit will happen in August 2020. SubT's final event in August 2021 will incorporate elements of all three environments.

Last September, the agency began selecting vendors and participants for its tunnel challenge, with a competitor's day in the Louisville Mega Cavern, a 100-acre manmade limestone cave.

In a final event, competitors will chase millions of dollars in awards. Teams on the systems track could win up to $2 million, while teams on the virtual track could get $1.5 million in winnings.

This article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com)

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected