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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.