Subterranean Exploration for the Win
Working at JPL as a doctoral research fellow, electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate Kamak Ebadi was tapped to join JPL's team in the prestigious DARPA Subterranean Challenge—a three-year competition. Only eleven 20-person teams from around the world were selected to compete. Previous DARPA challenges led to breakthroughs for autonomous cars, the internet, and drones.
Kamak's lidar-based simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithm helps his team's fleet of fully autonomous robots map and explore multiple underground caves, and they recently took 2nd Place in the "Tunnel Circuit" portion of the competition!
Finding solutions to the challenges presented by subterranean exploration--troublesome access, unpredictable terrain, limited visibility, and poor communication--offers immediate benefit to first responders and disaster relief agencies and also opens the possibility of addressing rising urban populations by building down, rather than up. Today the competition is focused on applications here on Earth, but this research lays the groundwork for future exploration of caves and lava tubes on the moon, Mars, and beyond.