Publication date: 
2021/06/17
Next week, a four-legged SPOT robot will enter Býčí skála in the Moravian Karst for the first time, along with other robotic systems and drones of the robotics team of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering (FEE). In the cave complex, which in winter serves as one of the largest wintering grounds for bats, they will prepare for the last round of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge organized by the US Department of Defense agency responsible for the development of new technologies from 21 to 25 June 2021. A team of academics with a robotic fleet will set off for the finals in the USA in September. They have the last three months to prepare.

Academics from the Department of Cybernetics and the Department of Computers of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering performing under the CTU-CRAS-NORLAB (Czech Technical University - Center for Robotics and Autonomous Systems - Northern Robotics Laboratory) won 1.5 million USD after success in last year's penultimate round. Thanks to this subsidy, they were able to invest in the purchase of modern robotic hardware to be fully competitive in terms of technological equipment in the final round. 

A significant amount was set aside by the team to purchase two autonomous four-legged SPOT robots from Boston Dynamics. The team also invested in a squadron of new drones with sensors adapted to the conditions of autonomous flight in underground spaces and new LIDARs, which will enable robots to see the latest 3D vision. 

The DARPA Subterranean Challenge simulates a real life rescue situation after a disaster. The teams of robots have the task of identifying as many objects as possible, such as people, telephones, backpacks, as well as detecting gas leak in an unknown environment within one hour. The knowledge used in the competition will then be used in time-critical defense and civilian operations such as "find and save". 

To prepare for the final round of the competition, the biggest challenge now is the rapid integration of new robots and drones with existing robots so that they can effectively exchange information in an environment where there is no GPS signal. The conditions of the cave do not allow the robots to be controlled manually by humans and will therefore depend exclusively on their autonomous movement, decision-making and mutual coordination during the competition. "The fastest and most adaptable is the four-legged SPOT robot. He can therefore go to the underground or flooded areas first to explore and plan where and which way the other robots will go. Subsequently, drones, for example, will fly to a place where SPOT itself will no longer reach, ”explains Ing. Tomáš Rouček, member of the research team and postgraduate student of the Department of Computers, FEE CTU. 

It is these independent robot planning and collaboration capabilities that will complete the exploration and search tasks that will determine which of the eight finalists from around the world will succeed in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge final. The cave is crucial for the preparation for the final round of the competition also because it is not entirely possible in the laboratory to simulate extreme environmental conditions where fog, mud or dust occurs. 

"Last year, in Býčí skála cave, we mainly got acquainted with a new type of underground environment, as the fragmentation of caves is a great challenge of algorithmic perception, but also of communication accessibility. A year ago, we gained our first major experience in deploying our robotic systems in cave environments, such as vertical flight of aircraft, creating a communication infrastructure and verifying location and mapping algorithms. This year we are preparing for a relatively extensive update of robotic platform technologies. In addition to the deployment of the four-legged SPOT robot, we plan to test partial systems of our complete solution for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, "compares field testing in Býčí skála by Professor Jan Faigl, head of the Computer Robotics Laboratory of the CTU Artificial Intelligence Center.  

Professor Tomáš Svoboda, head of the Department of Cybernetics, FEE CTU and head of the CTU-CRAS-NORLAB team, adds: “One of the important goals of the experiments is to verify our designed and constructed superstructure for SPOT and other ground robots. The superstructure contains sensors and computing power for fully autonomous deployment of robots. It also includes a unique device for discarding communication modules. One of the results of the experiments in Býčí skála will be the groundwork of an open data package for the experiments of ours and other robotics colleagues around the world. "  

Part of the five-day training of robots and drones will be reserved for the media. However, it is necessary to register in advance at the above contact by 23 June. Come and see SPOT and other rescue robots in action in an extreme environment that best meets the conditions of the final round of the prestigious DARPA competition. For a long time, this is the last opportunity to photograph or film robots in this set. 

Contact person: 
Name: 
RADOVAN SUK
E-mail: 
SUKRADOV@FEL.CVUT.CZ
Phone: 
+420 731 444 043
Department: 
FAKULTA ELEKTROTECHNICKÁ ČVUT V PRAZE