Darpa SubT Challenge 2018-2021


The DARPA Subterranean or “SubT” Challenge is a US$3.5 million prize competition funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a prominent research organisation of the United States Department of Defence, which aims to explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments.

About the Challenge

Complex underground settings present significant challenges for military and civilian first responders. The hazards vary drastically across domains that can degrade or change over time and are often too high-risk for personnel to enter.

Teams from around the world were invited to propose novel methods for tackling these time-critical scenarios through unknown courses in mapping subsurface networks and unpredictable conditions.

The Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group at CSIRO’s Data61 was proud to be one of the seven teams selected to participate in the three-year-long challenge, taking part in the Systems Track.

“Participating in the challenge will drive the development of a range of technologies that are relevant to Australia, including autonomous mapping and inspection systems, and advanced communication systems for harsh indoor environments, such as underground mines”, Mr Fred Pauling, Robotics and Autonomous Systems group leader at CSIRO’s Data61, said at the time.

Teams develop and demonstrate physical systems to operate in live competitions on physical, representative subterranean courses, and focus on advancing and evaluating novel physical solutions in realistic field environments.

Teams compete in three circuit events that will explore the difficulties of operating in underground environments: tunnel systems, urban underground and cave networks.

The DARPA Subterranean Challenge explores innovative approaches and new technologies to rapidly map, navigate, and search complex underground environments. – Image courtesy of DARPA.


Upon successful completion of Phase I and Phase II of the challenge, the CSIRO Data61 team has been selected as a finalist to compete in the DARPA SubT Challenge final event in September 2021!

CSIRO Data61 SubT Challenge Team

Our team is made of nearly 30 people from CSIRO’s Data61 Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group, students from QUT and the University of Queensland as well as two funded partners including the Georgia Institute of Technology, led by renowned robo-ethicist, Professor Ron Arkin and Emesent, a company spun out from our group at CSIRO.

We are not just the only Australian entity competing in the SubT Challenge, and one of only seven teams worldwide to receive funding of up to US$4.5 million from DARPA across the three-year challenge, but also the first and only Australian entity selected to compete in a DARPA Challenge final event.

CSIRO Data61 SubT Challenge Team’s Approach

We will create 3D maps of underground environments through LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanners mounted on legged robots as well as unmanned aerial vehicles which can fly in GPS-denied environments without a human controller.

Read about our team’s approach in detail here: Heterogeneous Ground and Air Platforms, Homogeneous Sensing: Team CSIRO Data61’s Approach to the DARPA Subterranean Challenge

All publications related to our team’s technology development can be found below:

Challenge Schedule

Teams compete in three preliminary circuit events plus a non competitive integration exercise and a final integrated challenge course pursuing high-risk and high-reward approaches. The final event, planned for 2021, will put teams to the test with courses that incorporate diverse challenges from all three environments.

  • SubT Integration Excercise (STIX) – Golden, CO, USA – April 2019
  • TUNNEL CIRCUIT – Pittsburgh, PA, USA – August 2019
  • URBAN CIRCUIT – Elma, WA, USA – February 2020
  • CAVE CIRCUIT – August 2020 (Cancelled due to Covid-19)
  • Local Cave Event in lieu of cancelled Cave Circuit – Chilagoe, QLD, Australia – September 2020
  • FINAL EVENT – Louisville, KY, USA – Sep 2021

See the full schedule here.

Recent Photos


Progress Updates

Below are some of our progress updates, stay tuned!


Media Coverage

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