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And They're Off ... Team Explorer Leaves for Kentucky

Team Explorer and their robots hit the road Friday en route to the final round of DARPA's Subterranean Challenge in Louisville, Kentucky.

The team loaded up a box truck, van and a few other vehicles for the nearly 400-mile drive from the Robotics Institute to the Mega Cavern complex. Special care was taken to make sure the robots will arrive without injury.

The competition starts Tuesday with the first of two preliminary rounds before the finals on Thursday. The team was tired after several late nights of testing and preparation but optimistic and proud of their work.

"The ground robots are as ready as they will ever be, and we had some good flights with the drones. They were flying up and down staircases, and we didn’t crash into anything," said Steve Willits, the team's lead test engineer. "It’s always a good day of testing when you don’t crash a drone."

Testing can take its toll on the equipment, so the team spent Thursday overhauling the robots before their trip down to the Kentucky caverns.

"As clean as they'll ever be," said Ralph Boirum as he put the wheels back on one of the ground robots.

Team Explorer will be using a fleet of ground robots and drones for the competition. The robots will work together to autonomously explore an underground course and look for objects such as backpacks, emergency equipment, hazards and even simulated human survivors.

Eight teams are competing in the finals. The team that finds the most objects during the final round wins the grand prize of $2 million.

Read more about Team Explorer in this story on the School of Computer Science's website. Follow the team's progress in Louisville on Twitter at @SCSatCMU.

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