Aussies claim silver at 'Robot Olympics'

The 'Robot Olympics' concluded in a vast old limestone mine in the US state of Kentucky.
The 'Robot Olympics' concluded in a vast old limestone mine in the US state of Kentucky.

A technically brilliant team led by Australia's national science agency has kicked NASA's butt in a global challenge deep inside the bowels of the Earth.

The CSIRO-led team has claimed silver at an event participants think of as the 'Robot Olympics', an epic three-year competition that has just concluded in a vast old limestone mine in the US state of Kentucky.

The Subterranean Challenge asks robotics experts to come up with novel approaches to map, navigate and search underground environments hostile to humans.

Think mining disasters, natural disasters or even combat-related missions.

Participants were asked to use autonomous robots to search the old mine site known as the Louisville Mega Cavern, find specified items such as models representing lost or injured humans and report back on underground conditions.

They also had to be able to detect variable threats such as pockets of gas.

And the CSIRO's Data61 team, operating six robots, nailed it, finishing second ahead of teams including one led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Alongside the glory, there was $US1 million ($AUD1.37 million) in prize money.

Dr Navinda Kottege is the CSIRO's robotics group leader. He's elated to have led the first Australian team to place in the top two at a challenge run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"This cements CSIRO's place as a world leader in robotics and puts Australia firmly on the map in this increasingly important area of science," he said.

The team involved experts from the CSIRO, its spin-out robotics company, Emesent, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"The team will now focus on translating the technology and capabilities developed from this project to solve some of Australia's greatest challenges," Dr Kottege said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is associated with the United States Department of Defense.

Australian Associated Press