All Hallow’s Eve is upon us. Spooky decorations and costumed children haunt the streets. But- what is under your feet? What are below the sidewalks you use to carry about your day? This underworld or subterranean environment is where the undead arises from and become the walking dead! The dark places around the world are where many spooky stories dwell, especially during this time of year.
What does all this have to do with electronic connectors from Samtec? These subterranean environments can present some challenges for electronics. Read on as we look at a recent DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) competition that deals with dark and spooky places in the underworld!
(With it also being around Halloween, each heading might just take you to a spooky story!)
MARBLE was anything but a statue as it used a combination of robots from Boston Dynamics to carry their ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconosisns) and communication equipment.
MARBLE is the name of the team we met during The DARPA Subterranean or “SubT” challenge. MARBLE is an acronym for “Multi-agent Autonomy with Radar-based Localization for Exploration” from the Colorado University of Boulder. The team camped out at our regional maker space (Maker13) for one evening to wind down from the competition as well as show off their robots to kids who came by for a visit.
Like many university teams, there were plenty of 3d printed parts and custom machined components to fix the equipment to the base. The “walking dog” robot carried most of the scanning and feature recognition equipment. The tank robot carried more of the communication equipment and dropped miniature antennas to create a mesh network to send their findings back to the team.
The robots were programmed to recognize human objects left as the pair traveled deeper into the abyss. Each of these robots had a combination of Micro Rugged, RF, and Flexible Stacking connectors that are typically used for more Industrial Applications. There were also some Sealed IP68 style connectors for any data ports that were on the outer cases.
The SubT competition was the culmination of a long, 4-year program. It was held at the MEGA Caverns in Louisville, Kentucky, which is a short 15-minute drive from Samtec global headquarters. Three different subterranean environments were traversed which made sure to test all aspects of the electronic signals.
The first environment was an urban setting to mimic search and rescue in a collapse or disaster area. Dust and debris were some obstacles, along with extreme temperatures and hazardous objects. MARBLE told a story of another team’s robot falling off a 2-3 meter-high collapsed tunnel. This kind of Shock and Vibration was a bit hard for them to recover from!
The second environment was a tunnel system with constrained passages and more extreme drops through vertical shafts and multiple levels of hazards. These were also man-made systems, but a bit cruder than the urban environment. Loose flooring and inevitable collapse are good reasons to send in the robots first.
The third environment was a natural cave network. In our region, this could mean a bit of humidity, since many caves are still being formed with active water flowing and dripping from all surfaces. This environment would have uneven surfaces and no traditional pathways available. Some teams deployed drones to avoid the pitfalls mentioned earlier.
Halloween or not, having a pair of robots to help check for monsters under the bed, or explore inaccessible subterranean locations would not be a bad thing. Electronic platforms have unique challenges and some severe environments to deal with. Samtec is equipped to help in these applications.
Thank you to the MARBLE team for visiting our community and inspiring a few kids with the crazy adventures of your robots. We look forward to new applications and careers that come from these types of university competitions.