A robot with tank treads explores a large cave

Exploring caves is all in a day’s work for this robot!

Image: CSIRO

CSIRO’s robotics scientists have a lot to celebrate. They were part of a team that represented Australia in one of the world’s hardest robotics competitions, the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. And they just won silver (and a million dollars).

Meet the team

Team CSIRO’s Data61 is made up of members from CSIRO’s Data61, CSIRO spin-out robotics company Emesent, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Together, the scientists coordinated a range of robots to tackle the many competition challenges.

  • All-terrain robots: These robots drive around on tracks like a digger or a tank, and form the backbone of the team. One of their most important jobs is carrying drop nodes – powerful, battery-powered Wi-Fi routers that can be dropped off in different places to help the robots communicate with each other.
  • UAV drones: These 4-rotored helicopters are fast, and suited to exploring tall rooms. They get a piggy-back ride on an all-terrain robot to help save their battery until they are really needed.
  • Quadruped robots: The team also has two 4-legged explorers that can get into tight spaces that bigger, tracked robots can’t. These dog-like robots were named Bluey and Bingo!

The challenge

a yellow robot with legs, with a tracked robot in the background. There is a drone sitting on top of the tracked robot

Can you find all three robots in this picture?

Image: CSIRO

The DARPA Subterranean Challenge was a gruelling test. Each team of robots was sent to explore a range of different underground environments including constructed tunnels, natural caves and indoor settings. Scattered throughout were a range of things you might find in a rescue mission. This included manikins kept at body temperature, mobile phones, gas leaks, ropes and more.

The aim in the final round was simple – find as many objects as possible. Each object correctly located was worth points.

The solution

Team CSIRO’s Data61 had a unique solution – sharing maps!

Most teams got their robots to send all the information they collected back to base. Then that information was sent out to the robots to help them navigate.

Instead, team CSIRO’s Data61’s robots each made its own maps, from the big all terrain bots to the little UAV drones. The robots shared maps whenever they were in wi-fi contact, and beamed info back to base whenever there was reception. But they were still able to learn from each other when they couldn’t phone home.

The result

a group of people posing with their robots

Meet the team!

Image: CSIRO

Team CSIRO’s Data61 had a strong start to competition, coming first in the preliminary round.

The competition only got closer from there. In the final round, the top two teams tied on points and the result came down to a tiebreaker. Unfortunately, team CSIRO’s Data61 sent their final report a minute after team CERBERUS. Still, second place was enough to bring home a million-dollar prize cheque.

But really, everyone wins. The tasks in this competition were based on real-life rescue missions including mine disasters and unsafe buildings. Next time disaster strikes, there could be a team of robots on their way to help!

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2 responses

  1. Julie Smith Avatar
    Julie Smith

    Congratulation on the great win! This technology will undoubtedly save lives.

    Just one small thing; It would be helpful if you could provide a link to view a larger version of each photo (“click to view larger image”). It is very hard to see detail in the small images.

    1. David Avatar

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