Robot ‘Olympians’ bring home the silver and $1.3million prize

Six Aussie robots – Rat and Bear (track robots), Bluey and Bingo (four-legged robots) and H1 and H2 (flying drones) – have done Australia proud and coming in second in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean Challenge – AKA the Robot Olympics – in the US.

“This is an amazing result! We are the first Australian team to place in the top two at a DARPA robotics challenge,” says Navinda Kottege, human-team leader of CSIRO’s Data61 and Robotics groups.

“This cements CSIRO’s place as a world leader in robotics and puts Australia firmly on the map in this increasingly important area of science.

“I’d like to thank team partners Emesent and Georgia Institute of Technology for their exceptional research and development and contribution to this amazing result.”

Preparation for the event organised by DARPA – the research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense – started in 2018. The Subterranean Challenge was designed to push the limits of autonomous robotic technology in a search-and-rescue situation.

The CSIRO Data61 robot team were awarded points for correct identification and location of special items, mapping the terrain, and maintaining autonomy and communications between robots throughout the challenge.

The $1.3 million prize money will be reinvested into CSIRO Data61 research and development of Australian technology.

“The team will now focus on translating the technology and capabilities developed from this project to solve some of Australia’s greatest challenges,” says Kottege.

The robots were researched, designed, built and operated as a collaborative effort between CSIRO’s Data61, CSIRO spin-out robotics company Emesent, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, US.

“Congratulations to the winners of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge,” says Farid Kendoul, co-founder of Emesent.

“It’s great news for Australia, and I am so proud of team CSIRO’s Data61 placing second, and the contributions that Emesent made over the three years to advance the team’s state-of-the-art robotics and showcase the capabilities of Australian companies on a global stage.”

Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory and the Georgia Institute of Technology, agrees. “Our years of hard work together paid great dividends both intellectually and in camaraderie, and it is truly exciting to see the final outcome!”

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