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'The Best Team, the Best Robots' … Team Explorer Prepares for Preliminary Runs at SubT Finals

Working well past midnight most days, Team Explorer has tinkered with their robots nearly nonstop since arriving in Louisville for the final round of DARPA's SubT Challenge.

The team spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday checking out the hardware and software powering its fleet. They tested the communications networks between the robots and with the team. Cameras, sensors and connections were secured with solder, hot glue, super glue, tape and zip ties. They made trips to a nearby Best Buy for last minute electronics.

Burrito orders were made through Slack. Pizza was ordered multiple times. Someone even bought a coffee maker for inside the team's garage.

Sebastian Scherer, co-lead of Team Explorer, urged the team not to panic during the long days and nights ahead.

"We definitely have the best team. We definitely have the best robots. We just have to make them work like they have been working at all the tests over the last three years," Scherer said during a team meeting one morning. "Let's not panic, and let's work together as a team."

At the hotel, the team took over a conference room. Drones sat on tables, ground robots on the floor. Once team members completed work on the robots and systems at the hotel, they decamped for the final round venue inside the Louisville Mega Cavern, an old limestone mine now with storage, a BMX track and a zipline park.

Everything for the final competition is inside the cavern: team garages, practice areas, onsite COVID testing, a television studio for DARPA's streaming channel for the competition — SubTV — and a lounge with huge screams to watch SubTV. Team Explorer pushed all the tables inside their garage to the edges, opening up the center for continued work and testing on the robots.

Inside the practice areas, the team flew its drones late Sunday night and into Monday morning to put cycles through their new batteries so they would be at their peak come the competition. Later Monday, the ground robots roamed the perimeter.

In between group photos of the team and of everyone involved, robots included, Team Explorer got its first look at the start gate to the secretive course. The start gate is designed to look like the entrance to a mine, with wooden beams framing a cut into the rock. The course sloped down and then turned left out of sight.

Even though they could see only about 30 feet into the course, the team started to formulate strategies for staging equipment and deploying the robots. With the team's first of two preliminary runs coming up fast, they didn't waste any time. The team's first preliminary run is scheduled to start at 5:30 pm EDT on Tuesday.

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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