The final round of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge brought our team CTU-CRAS-NORLAB 2nd place in the virtual competition. In the deployment of real robots in the MegaCavern complex in Kentucky, we finished 6th overall.

The final round of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge organized by the US Department of Defense earned our university team performing under the CTU-CRAS-NORLAB banner a podium position in the robot battle in a virtual environment –⁠ a robotic simulator. Among the ten best robotic teams in the world, second place was awarded $500,000. The results were announced by DARPA on Friday 24 September at a ceremony in Louisville, Kentucky, United States.

The software solutions competition took place in eight underground virtual worlds representing different environments. In them, three-dimensional robot models move with all the dynamics and kinematics, performing the same rescue tasks as their real-life predecessors in a simulated environment in a collaborative manner.

Apart from the prize money, we also gained a set of highly valuable data from the underground complex, which we will use in future research of robots themselves and multirobot systems.

"We focused mainly on the main competition with real robots, so second place in the virtual competition is a pleasant surprise for us. The result shows the possibilities of the technical solution, which we have invested in thanks to the DARPA subsidy. The fact that our solution works so well in the virtual realm gives us a promising perspective for working with the real system as well," says Tomáš Svoboda, leader of the team of more than thirty scientists and students.

DARPA has invested considerable effort in the last three years in improving the simulator, a virtual environment, because it sees its potential in creating new robotic systems and in realistically verifying robotic solutions with limited testing capabilities in a real environment. By coming second in the virtual robot competition, we will take home a half-million-dollar prize to Prague. The prize will allow us to further invest in robotics research which is always our priority.

The competition took place in this huge Mega Cavern complex. It‘s a former underground limestone mine in Louisville, Kentucky, which extends below the highway and the local zoo. As of right now, it‘s used by companies for storage and other purposes. Working areas for teams were very well prepared, with plenty of space, electricity and data connections with the outside world. At the same time, the teams were partially separated by opaque walls.

Simultaneously with the virtual competition, a competition of real robots took place in the underground MegaCavern complex in Kentucky. Our team of wheeled, tracked, flying and four-legged rescue robots managed to uncover seven objects in 60 minutes in a giant limestone mine, which earned us sixth place in the competition of the best eight teams in the world.

"During the competition round, we deployed a complete set of our robots. Six ground-based robots including three walking SPOTs, three drones, plus a hand-controlled robot serving as a motorized mobile communication base. In an environment where there is no GPS signal and the range of wireless communication is very limited, the robots worked off-line, fully autonomously, which we consider a success," says Jan Faigl who leads our Computational Robotics Lab.

Mainly thanks to the subsidy from DARPA, we have a significantly renewed robot line-up, which added two more SPOT robots in August. The new system allows for much more multi-robot exploration, robot autonomy and the ability to operate out of signal range than was previously the case.

The winner of the robotic systems competition is the Cerberus team, which identified 23 objects, as did the runner-up CSIRO Data61. The time of the last object detected by Team Cerberus was the deciding factor for the win and the $2 million prize. Congratulations guys, it was a fair play!

If you want to find out more about DARPA SubT and read about our struggles throughout the competition, see the dedicated DARPA 2021 page at the faculty's website where you can also see a bunch of great photos.

During the competition, we also enlisted the services of Boston Dynamics representatives present on site to repair one of our SPOTs that had become ill. They fixed everything quickly and we were able to deploy all walking robots in the final round.