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09:35 AM, October 10, 2018
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Sierra Nevada Corp in DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge
Subterranean robot: Image courtesy Carnegie Mellon University

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been selected to participate in the first phase of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean (SubT) Challenge program as part of an international team led by the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR).

The DARPA SubT Challenge is focused on advancing technologies that will enhance the ability to rapidly map, navigate and search subterranean environments through both systems and virtual competitions.  The SubT Challenge is composed of three phases – Tunnel, Urban Underground and Cave with each phase posing unique challenges to autonomous navigation, mapping and communication.

The team’s autonomous robotic system has been nicknamed CERBERUS (CollaborativE walking & flying RoBots for autonomous ExploRation in Underground Settings) and will include both autonomous quadrupedal walking robots and autonomous aerial robotic systems that can be ferried on the walking platform.

The walking and flying robots will collaborate and communicate while exploring, mapping and navigating the various subterranean environments presented by the challenge. SNC will provide a small-scale radar, enabling navigation in degraded visual environments to support obstacle detection and avoidance.  Additionally, SNC will contribute Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) network technology to enable communications between the autonomous robotic elements of the system.

SNC is part of a team made up of UNR’s Autonomous Robots Lab, ETH Zurich’s Robotic Systems and Autonomous Systems Labs, the HiPeR Lab of University of California, Berkeley and Flyability, a Swiss company specializing in drones designed to operate in confined spaces. 

During Phase 1, teams will be required to navigate a man-made tunnel network “Tunnel Circuit” similar to a mine. The Phase 2 environment will be more complex, representing a multi-level Urban Underground structure “Urban Circuit” that could be similar to a subway station or storm drain network, alongside a natural cave environment “Cave Circuit” that will force the competitors to negotiate irregular passages and obstacles.

The DARPA SubT Challenge will conclude with a “Final Event” testing the competitors’ capabilities in a comprehensive combination of environments and will simultaneously emphasize perception and navigation challenges including smoke, mist, wet surfaces and mud.

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