DARPA going underground

The Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs will host an April contest sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to test robots to seek out enemies in caves and tunnels.

The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency will take over a Colorado mine in April to test robots designed to seek out underground enemies.

“Nine qualified teams will attempt to remotely navigate the dark and dirty corridors of Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs, Colorado,” the Pentagon’s mad science arm, known by the acronym DARPA, said on its website.

Going below ground has been a dangerous problem for the military that was highlighted in Vietnam, where insurgents built underground complexes to hide from American troops.

From the caves of Afghanistan to Baghdad sewers, underground environments continue to challenge troops.

But the research agency is working on a robotic fix with a contest dubbed the “SubT Challenge.”

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“The Subterranean Challenge seeks to revolutionize how first responders and warfighters operate in human-made tunnel systems, urban underground settings, and natural cave networks that are too dangerous, dark, deep, and unknown to risk human lives,” the agency said. “Teams are competing to develop breakthrough technologies that rapidly and remotely map, navigate, and search subterranean environments.”

To test the robots, the Pentagon is teaming with the Colorado School of Mines to use the Edgar Experimental Mine.

The Golden college explained the underground classroom on its website.

“In the 1870s, it produced high-grade silver, gold, lead and copper,” the School of Mines said. “Today, as an underground laboratory for future engineers, it produces valuable experience for those who are being trained to find, develop, and process the world’s natural resources.”

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Among the teams vying in the robotic challenge is one tied to the University of Colorado at Boulder that uses radar to find its way through tunnels.

The research agency has placed a big bounty of up to $2 million for technology that solves the underground problem.

The Colorado test is just one stage in a competition set to run through 2021.

“The SubT Challenge comprises two competitions — the Systems Competition, where teams will develop novel hardware solutions to compete in physical underground environments, and the Virtual Competition, where teams will develop software-based solutions to test in simulated scenarios,” the research agency said.

And the Pentagon is recruiting more teams to join the underground contest. For more information, visit www.darpa.mil.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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