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Team CoSTAR Uses Velodyne Lidar Technology in DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit
Mar 27, 2020 | By Velodyne Lidar

Team CoSTAR placed first in the Systems Competition in the recent DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit. CoSTAR used Velodyne Puck LITE™ sensors to help its robots autonomously navigate the competition’s courses.

Team CoSTAR learns they placed first at the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit.
Team CoSTAR learns they placed first at the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

DARPA Challenge events are an important part of Velodyne’s heritage, and the company is proud to support CoSTAR. The idea of leveraging lidar technology for autonomous driving came to Velodyne Founder David Hall while participating in the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles. David Hall invented surround view lidar in 2005, helping to jump-start the autonomous revolution.

Husky UGV, one of Team CoSTAR's robots for the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit.
Husky UGV, one of Team CoSTAR’s robots for the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit competition, CoSTAR, which stands for Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots, brought machines that can roll, walk or fly to address the multiple challenges they encountered. CoSTAR includes more than 70 team members worldwide from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, KAIST in South Korea, and Lulea University of Technology in Sweden.

“Exploring subsurface voids and caves on Mars and other planetary bodies is an important step for us to understand the origin of life,” said Dr. Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi, CoSTAR’s team leader. “Caves and underground worlds are among the most perceptually challenging environments. In caves, and most subterranean environments, one needs to handle variable lighting situations from full dark to lit, self-similar and texture-poor environments, as well as potential obscurants in terrestrial search and rescue applications such as dust, fog and smoke,” noted Ali.

Amanda Bouman, CoSTAR team member and Caltech graduate student, operates Spot, a robot provided by Boston Dynamics with autonomy "smarts" provided by JPL.
Amanda Bouman, CoSTAR team member and Caltech graduate student, operates Spot, a robot provided by Boston Dynamics with autonomy “smarts” provided by JPL. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Velodyne lidar sensors are well equipped for subterranean exploration. Velodyne’s patented, surround view sensors are optimized for outstanding indoor/outdoor performance, operating in a variety of light conditions. They can handle high-stress environmental conditions including temperature cycling, water ingress and much more.

Watch the CoSTAR team and their squad of robots prepare for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit during a practice run at Elma High School in Washington.

“Puck LITE effectively addresses our weight, volume, measurement accuracy and range requirements. It was a great option for our autonomy concept of operations. Almost all our robots carry Velodyne lidars for performing simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) as well as helping the autonomy with traversability analysis and semantic understanding,” added Ali.

In the Systems Competition of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit, according to DARPA, ten teams traversed two courses running through an unfinished power plant in Elma, Washington in late February. DARPA created the courses to reflect the complexities of urban underground infrastructure.

Drivocopter, Team CoSTAR's rolling/flying robot for the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit.
Drivocopter, Team CoSTAR’s rolling/flying robot for the 2020 DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We were successful with Velodyne lidars and will continue working with Velodyne on this partnership to increase the level of perception and autonomy acting on the raw lidar measurements,” said Ali.

Powering the CoSTAR designs were robotics platforms from Clearpath Robotics, which is a member of the Automated with Velodyne partner program. “The CoSTAR team pushes the boundaries of the state-of-the-art in autonomous robotics fields forward. Velodyne lidar is ideal for mapping and navigating in GPS-denied environments, which made it a great fit for the Subterranean Challenge,” said Shahab Khokhar, Business Manager Components, Clearpath Robotics Inc.

About Velodyne Lidar

Velodyne provides smart, powerful lidar solutions for autonomy and driver assistance. Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Velodyne is known worldwide for its portfolio of breakthrough lidar sensor technologies. Velodyne’s Founder, David Hall, invented real-time surround view lidar systems in 2005 as part of Velodyne Acoustics. Mr. Hall’s invention revolutionized perception and autonomy for automotive, new mobility, mapping, robotics, and security. Velodyne’s high-performance product line includes a broad range of sensing solutions, including the cost-effective Puck™, the versatile Ultra Puck™, the autonomy-advancing Alpha Prime™, the ADAS-optimized Velarray™ and the groundbreaking software for driver assistance, Vella™.

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