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Learning as much as possible … Team Explorer gains valuable information during its first preliminary

Team Explorer was pumped Tuesday as it returned from its first preliminary run of the final round of DARPA's SubT Challenge.

It took three years of work, much of that spent in caves, mines and abandoned buildings, to get their first crack at the course.

Some aspects worked well. Others didn't. Some tactics and strategies will change. Others won't. The team ran into a few problems during the run, worked through them, got robots into the course and learned as much as possible during the 30-minute run.

"Lessons learned," said Matt Travers, a co-lead of the team. "The fact that we were able to recover and score some points was outstanding."

The team scored six out of a possible 20 points. They won't know how other teams fared until later.

Teams score points by finding objects such as cellphones, backpacks, fire extinguishers, ropes and simulated human survivors placed through the course. As robots find the objects, they report their locations back to the team, which can then submit it to DARPA. Identifying an object in its correct location scores a point.

During the run, only one team member can communicate with the robots, review their data, control them, if necessary, and submit objects to DARPA for points.

DARPA allows only 10 team members at the start gate. Half are there only to unload the robots from the transport vehicles before the round and load them after. The remaining five must set up all the equipment, including antennas, survey tools and a multi-monitor base station used to track the robots progress and review their data. The five position the robots, calibrate their sensors and check the communications networks.

"The setup was the best we've worked together as a team," Travers said.

After the run, the team members at the start gate returned to the garage with the robots in tow. Team members at the garage applauded as they returned. The whole team debriefed quickly and got to work.

They made small changes to the software directing the robots. They fixed some minor damage and checked that sensitive components were intact. They downloaded hundreds of gigabytes of data from the robots and began reviewing maps, photos and videos collected during the run.

"It wasn't perfect, but tomorrow can be," Travers said. "We need to work on our own strategy. We'll fix it. We'll get it right, and we'll be ready to go hard on Thursday."

Team Explorer will have one more preliminary run Wednesday before the final run Thursday. SubTV, DARPA's stream of the competition, will show highlights of all teams' Tuesday runs on Wednesday starting at 2 pm EDT.

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