Armed Forces News

The Pentagon’s lead research agency wants to know more about the goings-on underground. When the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) concludes its Subterranean Challenge, it presumably would have a much better understanding regarding how to map, navigate and search underground. d environments.

The challenge, conducted by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), is pitting engineering and research teams against each other — and asking them to work together – I the name of furthering underground exploration and study.

“One of the main limitations facing warfighters and emergency responders in subterranean environments is a lack of situational awareness. We often don’t know what lies beneath us,” said Timothy Chung, the TTO program manager.

“Advances in robotics, autonomy, and even biological systems could permit us to explore and exploit underground environments that are too dangerous for humans,” said TTO Director Fred Kennedy.

As such, Kennedy believes, warfighters could exploit potential strategic advantages of caves and tunnels, rather than avoid them altogether.

The side-by-side competition entails use of one or two research tracks. The Systems track involves the hardware and software development, to be tested on a physical course. The Virtual track entails development of software for use on a simulated course.

Competitors are vying in three preliminary events – human-made tunnel systems, underground urban environments such as mass transit and municipal infrastructure, and naturally occurring cave networks. They then would take part in a final event in 2021, involving courses that incorporate all three environments. The winner of the Systems event will earn $2 million; the Virtual event winner will get $750,000.

Interested parties are submitting their ideas to DARPA on Jan. 18, at the agency’s Arlington, Va., facility.