DARPA to hold competition at Satsop Business Park

By Thorin Sprandel

Grays Harbor News Group

Leading scientists and researchers from around the world will gather at the Satsop Business Park to compete and test their latest autonomous ground and aerial robots Feb. 18-27. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has chosen the business park’s thick, cement-walled reactor building to host its Subterranean (SubT) Challenge Urban Circuit.

DARPA was created after the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 as part of a commitment by the United States to be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises from that time forward. It is comprised of about 220 government employees in six technical offices who run about 250 research and development programs.

DARPA has pioneered technological breakthroughs in defense including stealth, unmanned aerial systems and precision guided munitions. Other DARPA projects have lead to widespread use of GPS, voice recognition, personal computers and the internet which in part grew out of their ARPANET project. Current DARPA research is focused on areas like self-driving vehicles, robots, exoskeletons and cognitive computing.

According to a news release, the SubT Challenge was created to “better equip warfighters and first responders to explore uncharted, underground environments that are too dangerous, dark or deep to risk human lives.”

Teams of robotic engineers and technicians, some funded by DARPA, will compete to find objects such as a thermal manikin that simulates a human survivor, a cell phone and a backpack. Self-funded teams compete for cash prizes, with $500,000 on the line for first place, $250,000 for second place and $100,000 for third place.

According to DARPA, there were more than 300 people at the Tunnel Circuit challenge in Pittsburgh in August, including 11 teams, staff and observers. The teams are mostly partnerships of leading national and international technological universities cooperating with governmental agencies and in some cases the private sector. For example, the CoStar team is made up of members from the the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We are proud to partner with DARPA to host the event and look forward to welcoming everyone to Grays Harbor,” said Port Commissioner Phil Papac.