X500 – Research Drone Inspired by the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Winner

Universal research drone for indoor inspections and mapping inspired by the success of the DARPA SubT Challenge.

Inspired by

The DARPA SubT Virtual Challenge Winner

Our X500, a universal drone created specifically for indoor inspections and mapping, was influenced by the success of our colleagues from the Multi-Robot Group at the Czech Technical University (MRS) in the DARPA SubT challenge. The inspiration for the X500 universal drone came from their platform, as described in their paper titled “Large-scale Exploration of Cave Environments by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.”

This paper served as the foundation for our development of the X500 drone, a versatile product that enables the utilization of open-source algorithms for further research. The X500 is based on a self-contained system specifically designed to facilitate the autonomous exploration of cave environments, aiding human explorers, first responders, and speleologists.

The primary subsystems of this drone encompass mapping, path and trajectory planning, localization, control, and decision-making. In order to maximize the limited flight time of each aerial robot involved in exploration and search & rescue scenarios where homing all deployed robots back to an initial location is unnecessary; we propose a multi-robot cooperation strategy. By leveraging our X500 drone alongside this cooperative approach, it is possible to enhance efficiency and effectiveness within challenging environments, such as tunnels, urban undergrounds, and cave networks.

X500 - Universal Research Drone

X500 universal research drone was inspired by the DARPA SubT Challenge winning platform.

The story behind

 The DARPA Success

Working with innovators inside and outside of government, DARPA has transformed revolutionary concepts into practical capabilities, including precision weapons, stealth technology, the Internet, voice recognition, language translation, and small GPS receivers for consumer devices. DARPA collaborates with academic, corporate, and governmental partners to create new strategic opportunities and tactical options. This ecosystem of diverse collaborators nurtures the intense creativity that DARPA cultivates.

Our colleagues from Czech Technical University participated in the DARPA competition in the CTU-CRAS-NORLAB team selected for the DARPA SubT Challenge

The team, led by Tomáš Svoboda, achieved several notable accomplishments in the DARPA SubT Urban Circuit, DARPA SubT Tunnel Circuit, as well as the virtual competition and systems tracks. All remarkable achievements of CRAS-NORLAB drones are fully described here, while for ongoing research on autonomous ground robots see https://cyber.felk.cvut.cz/research/groups-teams/vras/.

CTU MRS DARPA winning team

The DARPA SubT Challenge team from Czech Technical University won 2nd place in the final Virtual competition. Image source: archive of CTU-CRAS-NORLAB team.

In detail

Unique Platform & Open Source

It is noteworthy that the design of the X500 platform achieved great success in the Virtual SubT DARPA challenge, as all of the top six winning teams utilized it. This emphasizes its effectiveness and reliability in such competitive scenarios.

The platform’s uniqueness lies in its fully autonomous capability for indoor flight in unknown environments. This distinctiveness is worth highlighting, as it sets it apart from others and is a result of its large onboard computing power, 3D lidar technology, multiple cameras for real-time image processing, and extended flight time.

The researchers have published important components of the DARPA winning system as open source, allowing for their further use in fundamental research such as the use of autonomous cooperating UAVs in subterranean domains with demanding complex topology or in harsh and confined environments; multi-robot cooperation, low-bandwidth communication, localization of objects of interest and more.


The DARPA Sub-T Challenge

DARPA SubT Challenge winning research drone in the simulated underground environment. Image source: archive of CTU-CRAS-NORLAB team.

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