Subterranean challenge pivots to all-virtual competition for Cave Circuit

Qualification deadline for Cave Circuit Virtual Competition is Sept. 15; Final Event remains on track for Systems and Virtual Competitions in 2021

DARPA’s Subterranean (SubT) Challenge focuses on discovering innovative approaches to map, navigate, and search complex underground environments across three diverse subdomains: human-made tunnels, urban underground, and natural cave systems. Two previous scored events – Tunnel and Urban Circuits – featured both Virtual and Systems Competitions. DARPA has made the difficult decision to proceed only with the Virtual Competition for the Cave Circuit, due to safety considerations surrounding COVID-19. The date for the Cave Circuit Virtual Competition webcast/public event will be announced in the coming weeks.

Teams must qualify by a September 15 deadline to participate in the Cave Circuit Virtual Competition, which includes team registration and registration on the SubT Challenge Virtual Portal. Additional details are available in the SubT Qualification Guide available on the program’s Resources Page. Interested teams also are encouraged to join the SubT Community Forum, where they can engage with other participants and ask any questions.

We recognize and share the teams’ passion to compete and showcase the hard work they have completed since the Urban Circuit, and we also are committed to the safety of the global community and extended SubT Challenge family,” said Dr. Timothy Chung, program manager for the SubT Challenge in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Additionally, I know a significant aspect of the SubT Challenge is the opportunity to invite the public to experience the camaraderie and competition unique to DARPA challenges. We look forward to providing greater insight into the Virtual Competition Cave Circuit via an enhanced webcast and online experience, and offering additional opportunities to experience the SubT Challenge during the Final Event.”

Cave Circuit self-funded Virtual teams may compete for one of three top prizes, provided they finish in the top five overall ranking: $250,000; $150,000; or $100,000, respectively.

To compete, qualified teams must assemble a roster of robots and sensors selecting from available configurations on the SubT Tech Repo, some of which mirror Systems platforms from previous circuit events. Each robot configuration has an associated cost, measured in SubT Credits – an in-simulation currency – based on performance characteristics such as speed, mobility, sensing, and battery life.

Next, each team writes software and algorithms for their set of robots to compete in the simulated environments. Just as in the real-world competition courses, Virtual competitors will explore the cave environment and attempt to identify artifacts within five meters during a 60-minute timed run. A correct report is worth one point. Each course contains 20 artifacts, which means each team has the potential for a maximum score of 20 points.

During the submission window, teams will have access to several practice scenarios to repeatedly test and perfect their approach before they submit one official solution for scoring. The DARPA team will then evaluate the solution on a set of hidden competition scenarios.

The Final Event, planned for the latter half of 2021, will combine elements from each of the three subdomains. As with the previous two scored circuit events, the Systems and Virtual Competitions will take place in parallel with DARPA-funded and self-funded teams competing side-by-side. Teams in the Systems Competition will compete for up to $2 million in the Final Event Systems Competition. Teams in the Virtual Competition will compete for up to $1.5 million in the Virtual Final Event Virtual Competition.