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The first competitive event in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge concluded last week—hopefully you were able to follow along on the livestream, on Twitter, or with some of the articles that we’ve posted about the event. We’ll have plenty more to say about how things went for the SubT teams, but while they take a bit of a (well earned) rest, we can take a look at the winning teams as well as who won DARPA’s special superlative awards for the competition.
First Place: Team Explorer (25/40 artifacts found)
With their rugged, reliable robots featuring giant wheels and the ability to drop communications nodes, Team Explorer was in the lead from day 1, scoring in double digits on every single run.
Second Place: Team CoSTAR (11/40 artifacts found)
Team CoSTAR had one of the more diverse lineups of robots, and they switched up which robots they decided to send into the mine as they learned more about the course.
Third Place: Team CTU-CRAS (10/40 artifacts found)
While many teams came to SubT with DARPA funding, Team CTU-CRAS was self-funded, making them eligible for a special $200,000 Tunnel Circuit prize.
DARPA also awarded a bunch of “superlative awards” after SubT:
Most Accurate Artifact: Team Explorer
To score a point, teams had to submit the location of an artifact that was correct to within 5 meters of the artifact itself. However, DARPA was tracking the artifact locations with much higher precision—for example, the “zero” point on the backpack artifact was the center of the label on the front, which DARPA tracked to the millimeter. Team Explorer managed to return the location of a backpack with an error of just 0.18 meter, which is kind of amazing.
Down to the Wire: Team CSIRO Data61
With just an hour to find as many artifacts as possible, teams had to find the right balance between sending robots off to explore and bringing them back into communication range to download artifact locations. Team CSIRO Data61 cut their last point pretty close, sliding their final point in with a mere 22 seconds to spare.
Most Distinctive Robots: Team Robotika
Team Robotika had some of the quirkiest and most recognizable robots, which DARPA recognized with the “Most Distinctive” award. Robotika told us that part of the reason for that distinctiveness was practical—having a robot that was effectively in two parts meant that they could disassemble it so that it would fit in the baggage compartment of an airplane, very important for a team based in the Czech Republic.
Most Robots Per Person: Team Coordinated Robotics
Kevin Knoedler, who won NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge entirely by himself, brought his own personal swarm of drones to SubT. With a ratio of seven robots to one human, Kevin was almost certainly the hardest working single human at the challenge.
Fan Favorite: Team NCTU
Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum
The Fan Favorite award went to the team that was most popular on Twitter (with the #SubTChallenge hashtag), and it may or may not be the case that I personally tweeted enough about Team NCTU’s blimp to win them this award. It’s also true that whenever we asked anyone on other teams what their favorite robot was (besides their own, of course), the blimp was overwhelmingly popular. So either way, the award is well deserved.
DARPA shared this little behind-the-scenes clip of the blimp in action (sort of), showing what happened to the poor thing when the mine ventilation system was turned on between runs and DARPA staff had to chase it down and rescue it:
The thing to keep in mind about the results of the Tunnel Circuit is that unlike past DARPA robotics challenges (like the DRC), they don’t necessarily indicate how things are going to go for the Urban or Cave circuits because of how different things are going to be. Explorer did a great job with a team of rugged wheeled vehicles, which turned out to be ideal for navigating through mines, but they’re likely going to need to change things up substantially for the rest of the challenges, where the terrain will be much more complex.
DARPA hasn’t provided any details on the location of the Urban Circuit yet; all we know is that it’ll be sometime in February 2020. This gives teams just six months to take all the lessons that they learned from the Tunnel Circuit and update their hardware, software, and strategies. What were those lessons, and what do teams plan to do differently next year? Check back next week, and we’ll tell you.
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