CSIRO to develop robotics technology for underground terrains

Hovermap lidar mapping and autonomy payload fitted to drone for underground mine mapping. Image: CSIRO

Hovermap lidar mapping and autonomy payload fitted to drone for underground mine mapping. Image: CSIRO

CSIRO’s technology arm Data61 is one of the seven teams competing to receive up to $US4.5 million ($6.4 million) in funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Subterranean (SubT) Challenge is a three-year initiative that aims to explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate and search underground environments.

CSIRO Data61 Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group leader Fred Pauling said, “We’re pairing our¬†ultralight legged robots with our Hovermap GPS-denied drone autonomy technology, to create a robot team that can rapidly explore and map challenging underground environments, providing unprecedented situational awareness in time-critical scenarios such as disaster response.”

Data61’s SubT Challenge team will mount light detection and ranging (LiDAR) scanners on legged robots as unmanned aerial vehicles that fly in GPS-denied environments to create 3D maps of underground environments.

Once developed, the technology can assist human first responders to explore hazardous underground environments.

Last year, the Hovermap GPS-denied drone technology flew the world’s first fully autonomous beyond-line-of-sight drone flight in an underground mine, 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

Pauling said, “We’re honoured to be competing in DARPA’s SubT Challenge, drawing on decades of experience in developing robots, sensing and communications systems for challenging environments like underground mines and caves.”

The SubT Challenge team is comprised of nearly 30 people from CSIRO’s Data61 Robotics and Autonomous Systems research group; QUT and the University of Queensland students; and two funded partners including the Georgia Institute of Technology led by renowned robo-ethicist Ron Arkin.

Data61’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group is one of the leading robotics and autonomous systems research in the world.