The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, loves a good contest. Whether it’s an effort to design wild new robots or to more fully evolve cyber-security, the U.S. Department of Defense’s official mad science think tank regularly invites the public (well, usually private companies and universities) to come up with innovative solutions to big technical problems. Their latest competition, called the Subterranean Challenge, is taking on the problem of navigating underground spaces.
What does that mean? Thanks to the rapid urbanization taking place across the globe, according to a statement from DARPA, use of underground spaces including man-made tunnels, natural cave formations, and subterranean infrastructure is also increasing. Particularly in the context of emergency responders and military personnel, the agency says it’s identified a greater need to find new and better ways of quickly understanding these spaces, including such unique challenges as communications limitations and dangerous terrain. With the Subterranean Challenge, the agency says it hopes to solicit “new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments.”