Meet Dr Navinda Kottege and the robot 'Olympians' representing Australia in the DARPA Subterranean Final Challenge.

The biggest international sporting event of the year is far from finished. Our Data61 team is representing Australia, and the Southern Hemisphere, in the ‘robot Olympics’ this month.

Our six robot Olympians will work together to map, navigate and search the course. Which simulates a real-life subterranean scenario, like an underground car park or mine. 

The teams earn points by finding and correctly identifying models along the way. These models represent lost or injured humans, backpacks, or phones, as well as conditions like pockets of gas and heat. 

Organised by US research and development agency DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the three-day challenge is the fourth and final round in the series. 

Principal Research Scientist, Dr Navinda Kottege, is the leader behind the team.

“In the world of robotics, these challenges are like our Olympics,” Navinda said.  

“We’re thrilled to be one of the eight teams in the world to compete, and this is the first time any Australian team has made it to a challenge final. We’re very proud to showcase Australia’s capabilities in this area on the world stage.”  

Introducing Australia’s robot Olympians

You might already be familiar with our robot tech. But, just like people, they aren’t all the same! Here’s how to recognise each team member when you’re cheering them on:  

Bluey and Bingo 

You’ve probably heard of Boston Dynamics’ Spot bots. With their dog-like appearance and names, Bluey and Bingo can go where tracked robots can’t.  
They can walk, trot, avoid obstacles, climb stairs, and much more. Their legs are powered by 12 custom motors and have a top speed of 1.6 metres per second. 

Five sensors located on each side allows them to have eyes in the back of their ‘heads’. Giving them the distinct advantage of surveying the space around themselves from any direction. 

A yellow robot Olympian on four legs stands in a grungy indoor warehouse.

Robot Olympians Bluey and Bingo can go where other robots can’t.

Bear and Rat 

With a continuous band of tread to propel them, Bear and Rat are known as tracked all-terrain robots. The pair can carry a significant amount of weight, which means they can transport crucial robots with a shorter battery life. This technique is known as ‘marsupialing’. Go teamwork!

Designed by Brisbane-based company BIA5, Bear and Rat can work out where they are in an unknown environment. They do this by using Data61 sensor tech to create a map of the surrounding area. 

They then send this information back to a remote base station using wireless mesh networking. Onboard monitors and multiple cameras allow it to act as the eyes of first responders in dangerous situations. 

They’re also class leaders in their ability to climb stairs and do it faster than other robots of their kind. 

An orange robot in a tank like shape shines a light at the camera from a grungy warehouse floor.

Bear and Rat’s unique strength and size mean they can carry other robots too.

H1 and H2 

Designed and developed by Data61 spinout and our partner Emesent, autonomous drones H1 and H2 can work without a human controller.  

The drones can create 3D maps, and record gas readings, videos and images. They don’t need GPS to operate, unlike many industrial drones. 

They can operate up to 600 metres below the surface, with inbuilt collision detection and avoidance tech. This allows them to operate safely during all phases of flight in any environment (underground, indoor and outdoor), day or night. 

A drone sits on the mismatched carpeted floor of a grungy warehouse.

Is it a bird? A plane? No… it’s H1.

But it’s not all fun and games below the surface. The winning robot Olympians will receive $US2 million for further research and development. With second place taking home $US1 million and third $US500,000.  

The 2021 DARPA Subterranean Final Challenge takes place from 21-23 September.


  1. I hope they can win, what a wonderful team to represent Australia, we have some very bright people here and I salute them.

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