DARPA Subterranean Challenge announces systems competition teams for final event

The Robot Report
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The DARPA Underground Challenge finals are scheduled for later this year, after a three year competition. | Image credit: DARPA

Eight teams have qualified for the DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge Systems Competition Final Event. On September 21-23, 2021, the teams’ robots will have to quickly navigate unfamiliar underground environments at the Louisville Mega Cavern in search of common items including backpacks, cell phones, trapped survivors, and even invisible gas. Those who find and identify the most items will win prizes of $2 million for 1st place, $1 million for 2nd place, and $500,000 for 3rd place.

Both DARPA-funded and self-funded teams have an equal chance to win prize money in the Final Event. The SubT Challenge has held three preliminary events over the past two years – Tunnel, Urban, and Cave Circuits – and the Final Event will include elements of all three subdomains. In addition, the competition includes both a systems challenge (physical robots) and a virtual challenge. During the pandemic, teams have put their time and energy into the virtual competition to continue to test their software and designs.

The SubT Challenge is run by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) in order to uncover innovative solutions to life-threatening, real-world impediments. “Complex underground settings present significant challenges for military and civilian first responders,” explains DARPA Program Manager Timothy Chung. “The DARPA SubT Challenge is looking for novel approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments during time-sensitive combat operations or disaster response scenarios.”

Chung adds that the project has already achieved success. “Multimodal sensing developed through collaboration of robots during this project has increased the probability of correctly identifying important targets in real life,” says Chung. “The SubT Challenge is pushing researchers and startups to move to greater autonomy and has led to huge leaps in capability within subterranean environments while allowing learning from failure in non-critical situations.”

Eight international teams have made the finals

The teams that qualified for the Systems Competition at the SubT Challenge Final Event are:

  • CERBERUS: CollaborativE walking & flying RoBots for autonomous ExploRation in Underground Settings (DARPA-funded)
    • University of Nevada, Reno
    • ETH Zurich, Switzerland
    • University of California, Berkeley
    • Sierra Nevada Corporation
    • Flyability, Switzerland
    • Oxford Robotics Institute, England
    • Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway
  • Coordinated Robotics
    • Coordinated Robotics
    • California State University, Channel Islands
    • Oke Onwuka
    • Sequoia Middle School, Newbury Park, California
  • CoSTAR: Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robots (DARPA-funded)
    • Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    • California Institute of Technology
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    • KAIST, South Korea
    • Lulea University of Technology, Sweden
  • CSIRO Data61 (DARPA-funded)
    • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia
    • Emesent, Australia
    • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • CTU-CRAS-NORLAB: Czech Technical University – Center for Robotics and Autonomous Systems – Northern Robotics Laboratory (DARPA-funded)
    • Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic
    • Université Laval, Canada
  • Explorer (DARPA-funded)
    • Carnegie Mellon University
    • Oregon State University
  • MARBLE: Multi-agent Autonomy with Radar-Based Localization for Exploration (DARPA-funded)
    • University of Colorado, Boulder
    • University of Colorado, Denver
    • Scientific Systems Company, Inc.
    • University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Robotika
    • Robotika International, Czech Republic and United States
    • Robotika.cz, Czech Republic
    • Czech University of Life Science, Czech Republic
    • Centre for Field Robotics, Czech Republic
    • Cogito Team, Switzerland

The Virtual Competition is still open

In addition to the Systems Competition involving physical robots, there will be a Virtual Competition Final Event. New entries are being accepted until June 29, and those that qualify will be announced later this summer. The SubT Virtual Competition portal can be accessed at: subtchallenge.world

DARPA will host a media day in Louisville on September 23. Details will come in later announcements, but we encourage interested journalists to contact us now.


Robotics competitions like the DARPA Subterranean Challenge push the envelope of what’s possible with robotics today. The underground world brings unique challenges to robotic device design and operation, including limitations in communication, localization and mapping. The underground world is more similar the conditions for space robots (like the Mars rovers), than it is to the warehouse robots that we’re so familiar with today. DARPA challenges are also excellent breeding grounds for the robotics entrepreneurs of tomorrow. We’re excited to follow this competition through the finals and see which designs are the winners.

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